Ode to the marine layer

We picture Los Angeles as a place where summer never ends. Sunshine is what we come west for. The truth is that gray days are as characteristic of the coast as sunny days.

If you didn’t know, we often wake up to a marine layer in Southern California, especially in summer. June gloom it’s called.

I only recently looked into the science behind it. Two critical factors uniquely intersect here in Southern California leading to the frequent development of a marine layer. One part of the formula is the high pressure zone seasonally located above us. The other component is the cold water current running off the coast from British Colombia to the Baja Peninsula which cools the surface air.

Normally, air becomes cooler with increasing altitude (ice crystals on your plane window). When a marine layer forms, the opposite has happened. The air at the surface is cooler than the air above it. This phenomenon is called a temperature inversion. Marine layers are more pronounced on the West coast because of the cold water and the localized (but seasonal) pressure high pushing warmer air downward. Even further cooling of surface air is caused by upwelling of colder deeper waters.

Immediately below the inversion, water condenses forming a cloud. Once the sun rises and begins to warm the air, the water evaporates and the cloud dissipates. Most gray mornings eventually become sunny days. Like magic.

I never thought the marine layer was a reason not to go to the beach. Quite the opposite; I embrace those days like all others. To me, the marine layer is a welcome reprieve from the abundant sun in this city where the desert meets the ocean.

But I have always found solace and seen beauty in the marine layer. I lived in it and relished it in San Francisco. The marine layer naturally cooled the city while outlying areas inland baked during summer days.

I felt moved enough recently to try to write a poem about the marine layer. The marine layer is after all just another gift from the sea! I chose haiku because it has a set of easy to follow rules-five, seven, and five syllables-and natural phenomena are traditional subject matter.

Ode to the marine layer

by Janice Nigro

Summer’s cooling gift

Water droplets from the sea

Hide us in daylight


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