When California’s coastal currents carry the frigid water of the deep to chill its saltwater surface, delicate wisps of moisture form in the warm air above: fog. As the coastal fog rolls over Santa Cruz County, the landscape takes on new shape, new form, and breathtaking beauty. The marine layer provides natural air-conditioning to the central coast and produces much-needed water for the local ecosystems. It gently wraps the land up in its nourishing blanket of moisture, dramatically changing the weather and landscape, and creating stunning perspectives beyond your wildest dreams.
Occurring mostly in the spring and summer when warm humid air crosses over cooler ocean waters, the fog shapeshifts the Santa Cruz County landscape. Sometimes thick and dark, sometimes light and airy, the fog has a way of redefining coastlines, mountain ranges, ocean views, and tree lines.
On foggy mornings, before the fog recedes gently to the sea or evaporates due to rising temperatures, it covers the sky in its cloudlike cloak. Wisps begin to break off, delicately floating on the wind toward Monterey Bay.
Other times, the fog evaporates right before your eyes. This is often referred to as the fog “burning off” – but that phrase can be misleading. When the sun rises, the air and ground warm up. This leads to the air temperature being warmer than the dew point temperature, which causes the fog droplets to evaporate. (Weather Guys blog at the University of Wisconsin).
At golden hour, the sun hangs low in the sky with its ethereal glow and the rays are amplified by the fog, glittering and gleaming as they shine through the fine mist. As the marine layer rolls back toward the shore, sunsets are made only more beautiful by its reflections of the vibrant colors setting over the sea. Bring layers when you go fog-watching; the fog’s capricious nature is dramatic on the temperature as well, with rapid fluctuations.
The misty marine layer is an essential part of many ecosystems and microclimates throughout the California coastal region. Blanketing the sky as it comes and goes, the coastal fog provides much-needed moisture to the drought-ridden coastal ecosystems, flora, and fauna that rely on it – like the towering redwood forests found throughout Santa Cruz County. Shrouded in mist, their redwood needles have evolved to catch the fog’s moisture, which trickles down the canopy to the creeks and waterways below. In fact, redwood trees get up to 40% of their annual water intake from the fog! The moisture trapped in the hanging mist also benefits coastal crops and vines, which rely on the fog for water. This low-to-the-ground vapor saturates the soil and gives new life to parched plants, reviving, and providing the necessary moisture for new growth.
The misty fog along the shore provides essential temperature cooling and moisture, while simultaneously transforming our natural landscapes. Towering redwood forests and plants that create the lush, green terrain that hugs the coastline are sustained by the moisture trapped in the fog’s vapor. The fog enhances stunning sunsets and creates dramatic visuals as it floats from sea to land and back again.
The fog’s careful nurturing of the coastal terrain provides a reminder that we too, can be stewards of the earth. By reducing water usage, packing trash with us, and leaving natural spaces even better than we found them, we can do our part to keep these awe-inspiring places beautiful for generations to come; so that our children’s children experience and appreciate the ever-changing scenery here, beyond their wildest dreams.
All Photos by Ben Ingram