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Culture / Travel

The Real Truth Behind Galveston’s Blue Water — and How Long It’s Going to Last

Social Media Sensation Defies the Beach Skeptics

BY // 05.31.18

There’s been a dramatic change in Galveston’s waters. Out of the blue, the typically murky waves have turned, well, blue. Bright, unmistakable blue.

The striking unexpected sight quickly went viral, turning into a social media sensation.

That’s right. For now, you won’t see any of those typical chocolatey hues as you bob along. Instead, you’ll find a clear, tranquil, Instagram-worthy, I’m-on-vacation blue lapping the shoreline. In Galveston. The aerial pics look like post cards. Galveston getaways aren’t looking anything close to second rate now.

The Galveston blue water is a welcome change from the norm, and the dramatic transformation was timed perfectly for Memorial Day Weekend. Beachgoers discovered the bright blue waves last Saturday. You’d better believe there are receipts on Twitter.

One user uploaded a video on May 26 with the message “I swear this clear water is Galvy.” You can see feet through the pristine waters as they wade in.

There are doubters though. Some are in as much as denial about Galveston’s blue water as the Flat Earthers about the shape of the globe. These skeptics claim they don’t buy it and question the “blue water.” Some argue we’re being catfish’ed — points for the marine pun — but this truth is real. It’s as crystal clear as the water itself — this is no prank or hoax.

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It’s science.

“Generally, the water is typically brown in and around Galveston Bay. This is because of things like suspended sediment and other materials suspended in the water,” Kristen Thyng, research assistant professor at Texas A&M University in Oceanography tells PaperCity. “The brown water isn’t unhealthy or anything bad.”

But it’s more of an eyesore than a sight for sore eyes. The sediments that make the water look muddy come pouring in from fresh water rivers like the Trinity, and the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya to the east.

Looking at stream gauges, Thyng compared the amount of fresh water in the Galveston Bay over a recent time period to the typical amount. “There’s been less freshwater inflow recently,” Thyng says. She also took data from a buoy observed by Texas A&M’s geochemical and environmental research group. “The buoy is about 20 kilometers off of Galveston Island. It’s quite salty, relatively recently. Salty water is usually associated with offshore water and is typically clear.”

There’s less fresh water, meaning nothing to bring the brown. But why? “The river plume is mostly controlled by the winds. Generally, the winds have been pushing the river plume off to the east,” Thyng says.

Other scientists have gone on the record saying that a gyre, or a kind of vortex, caused the shift in color. Thyng says that’s possible, but the wind patterns alone are enough to explain the current picturesque shade of Galveston blue water. Enough wind is blowing to get the river plume to the east out of the way, so there’s clear, salty water around the island.

It’s hard to say how long the waters will stay this way, since wind forecasting is difficult to do. But Thyng’s best guess is that it will only take a few days for the fresh water to come back down and muck things up.

So get down to Galveston and see those bright blue waters under big blue skies while you can. If you cannot make it to Galveston now, you may get another chance in the future. But who knows when.

“I think it’s uncommon, but it could definitely happen again,” Thyng says.

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