Incredible bioluminescent waves have been creating remarkable scenes at Southern California’s beaches.
The phenomenon is caused by dinoflagellates, microscopic marine plankton. “Occasionally they are found in high concentrations, resulting in red tides, so called because the high abundance of organisms discolors the water,” explains the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on its website. “If the dinoflagellates are luminescent, there can be spectacular displays of bioluminescence at night.”
Credits: BBC Earth
On its website, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography notes that the cellular regulation of dinoflagellate bioluminescence is complex and only partially understood. However, the luminescent chemistry is ultimately caused by a drop in pH, or an increase in acidity, due to an influx of protons within the cell.
Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. It is a form of chemiluminescence. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some fungi, microorganisms including some bioluminescent bacteria and terrestrial arthropods such as fireflies. In some animals, the light is bacteriogenic, produced by symbiotic bacteria such as those from the genus Vibrio; in others, it is autogenic, produced by the animals themselves.
In a general sense, the main chemical reaction in bioluminescence involves some light-emitting molecule and an enzyme, generally called the luciferin and the luciferase, respectively. Because these are generic names, the luciferins and luciferases are often distinguished by including the species or group, i.e. Firefly luciferin. In all characterized cases, the enzyme catalyzes the oxidation of luciferin.