Many people assume that the ocean looks blue because it reflects blue light from the sky; this assumption is incorrect, though there are instances in which some blue light does reflect from it.
The ocean’s hue is determined by absorbing red, orange and yellow light while reflecting back shorter wavelengths as blue – although in certain locations where algae or other sediment are dissolving into its waters it can appear greenish-looking.
There’s a common belief that oceans make the sky blue by reflecting its color onto them, however this cannot stand up under scientific scrutiny as light scatters through atmosphere through Rayleigh Scattering which results in blue hued skies.
Earth’s atmosphere contains millions of tiny particles and molecules too small for human eyes to detect, so when sun rays pass through it they encounter these microscopic objects which cause sun rays to scatter into all directions – longer wavelengths scatter more than shorter ones due to Rayleigh Scattering; an elastic scattering process where energy of light is dispersed without loss or change in frequency (wavelength); as such blue wavelengths tend to get dispersed more than red ones which makes sky appear bluer.
At any one time during a day, most of the sunlight that we observe comes from direct reflection off clouds in the sky; the rest is indirect sunlight which has passed through the atmosphere – this gives the sky its color!
As the sun is setting or rising, its light must travel through even more layers of atmosphere before reaching our eyes – this allows more blue and violet wavelengths of light to come through, with less of its yellow and red wavelengths making their way down through our atmosphere – thus producing more blue hues in our skies during these times of day. This phenomenon creates more blue sky.
Not alone are these factors the sole factors for why the ocean appears blue; but they certainly play an integral part. Another major component is water itself. Water naturally exhibits light hues of turquoise blue that fade to greenish when mixed with oil; moreover, its frequency spectra closely corresponds with that of direct sunlight so its wavelengths tend to get scattered more readily into our eyes than other colors.
Long Wavelength Light
The sky appears blue because sunlight reflected off water has been refracted off its surface and scattered only longer wavelengths like blue from sunlight, such as those produced by red and orange wavelengths which absorb all other colors but leave behind only blues that can penetrate to greater depths. At first glance, however, both oceans appear similar as they absorb various other wavelengths while only scattering out longer wavelengths like blue. But the deeper you explore an ocean’s depths the less blue it appears due to longer wavelength colors like reds and oranges being absorbed by water molecules leaving only blues which can penetrate greater depths.
The ocean’s blue hue is created primarily by light scattering off water molecules themselves. Short wavelengths like blue and violet tend to be scattered more readily than longer ones such as red and yellow, entering our eyes more readily for interpretation as a blue hue in our seascapes.
Sunlight contains all of the colors of the rainbow. When sunlight reaches Earth’s atmosphere, however, it becomes scattered by gases and particles present there, with shorter wavelengths dispersed more widely while longer ones tend to absorb light more effectively resulting in white light becoming transformed into an array of rainbow-hued light as it travels through.
As sunlight hits the ocean, its light is dispersed into various wavelengths; blue wavelengths scatter more than red or green ones, allowing more blue light to penetrate deeper. This phenomenon accounts for why ocean waters tend to appear blue from a distance but also why their surface turns bright pink at sunrise and sunset.
Shallow areas of the ocean appear turquoise because they still reflect some green light, while deeper waters can take on darker hues when filled with phytoplankton, single-celled plants that provide oxygen to our atmosphere and contain chlorophyll to absorb both red and blue wavelengths of light, creating natural colors ranging from dark blue to emerald green.
The depth of water combined with coral structures on its floor are key contributors to its blue color. Caribbean waters tend to be lighter due to flatness of bottom, while Atlantic Ocean waters usually feature steeper drop-offs and are thus darker.
Short Wavelength Light
Many people mistakenly believe that the ocean appears blue because it reflects the sky. Although this may be partly true, the main factor behind its color is longwave light absorption by water molecules while shortwave (blue light) passes directly through.
Blue and violet light waves have very short wavelengths, typically between 380 nanometers at their lowest end of spectrum and 500 nanometers on their upper end. Due to this shortness, they tend to move very rapidly with high frequencies – meaning that they tend to get scattered more readily across the sky than wavelengths with longer lengths such as red and orange light waves.
The scattering is so strong that we can see blue no matter which angle we observe the sky from.
As we look out at the ocean, it may appear a greenish-blue color; this is due to phytoplankton; tiny single-celled plants that produce chlorophyll and use sunlight for photosynthesis, reflecting back green light towards us through photoreception. Our eyes detect some green wavelengths in these refractions while brains interpret it as blue wavelengths which have more scatter.
Shallow areas with clear water may appear turquoise due to light reflecting off of white sand bottoms of oceans and bays. Deeper waters tend to appear bluer due to more light being filtered through their depths rather than scattered widely, giving an overall bluer tone.
Other planets do not feature true blue skies because their atmospheres are much thicker than our own and contain different compositions, which affect how light is scattered and absorbed. For instance, Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere consisting almost solely of carbon dioxide which means its light would reach Earth much more pale compared to our own vibrant sky.
The sky is blue because sunlight scattered from the sun scatters off of Earth’s atmosphere in such a way as to favor shorter wavelengths, particularly those of blue hue. This phenomenon, known as Rayleigh Scattering, was named for John William Strutt 3rd Baron Rayleigh.
As sunlight hits Earth’s oceans, it is scattered in such a way as to favor blue wavelengths. This occurs because water molecules in the ocean absorb long wavelengths while permitting certain short ones through, creating an effect where most of the light hitting its surface will be blue but there may also be other colors present.
As this happens, blue wavelengths reflect off of the ocean surface and into its depths while other wavelengths are absorbed by ocean molecules and become invisible – this explains why a satellite image depicting the sea looks blue while when you arrive there it may look different from shore or from your own perspective.
Although this makes the ocean appear blue, its true blue hue comes from absorption of longer wavelengths of light by gas molecules in the atmosphere – known as the Tyndall effect and responsible for other blue colors such as those seen on blue jay wings or some gem stones.
One factor contributing to the blue hue of the ocean is its composition of dissolved and suspended components, such as tannin (a substance produced when plant material breaks down in water), sand particles, or algae; these contribute to its deep hue when seen from above as well. This contributes to both greenish hues from a distance as well as lighter tones when seen directly below.
On the Moon, however, this process does not occur due to its extremely thin atmosphere that is almost devoid of gases; as a result, sunlight doesn’t get scattered as efficiently, leading to black daytime skies and red night-time views of its surface.