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The Olympic Diving Pool Turned Green And This Is Probably Why

TL;DR: It was probably algae.

Originally posted on
Updated on

So you might have seen that the Olympic diving pool in Rio turned green on Tuesday.

British diver Tom Daley, who won a bronze medal with his diving partner Dan Goodfellow on Sunday, tweeted his confusion at the colour change.

Athletes who competed in the green pool say it didn't affect their performance. But the big question is...why did it turn green in the first place?!

Rio spokesperson Marlo Andrada said the green colour was due to a "proliferation of algae" that happened "because of heat and a lack of wind".

The algae explanation fits with the fact that the pool seems to have turned not just green, but cloudy too.

#greenpool - @toniacouch says it was so green she couldn't see dive partner @LoisToulson under the water #Rio2016

British diver Tonia Couch said she couldn't see her partner through the water.

Algae are naturally found in small numbers in swimming pools, but they're so tiny you wouldn't normally be able to see them.

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

"They're tiny, they're far too small to be seen by the naked eye," Dr Stephanie Henson of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton told BuzzFeed News. "But if conditions are just right then you get an algae bloom where it gets to the point where you can see the greenness in the water. Algae can multiply several times a day."

Algae are plants, and the green colour is their chlorophyll – the same chlorophyll plants on land use to make glucose through photosynthesis.

In the right conditions, algae can bloom very rapidly.

"Jacques, no cleaning!" #GreenPool #Rio2016

Heat can boost an algal bloom, and the lack of wind mentioned by Rio officials could also have contributed by keeping the water warm, Henson said: "The rate at which [algae] multiply is dependent on temperature."

"It may also be something to do with the balance of nutrients in the water," she added. "If for some reason that's changed and it hasn't been balanced properly then you can get these conditions happening.

"In these conditions where it was very warm, maybe their filters weren't working as much as possible, maybe the balance of chemicals in the pool wasn't quite right somehow – that could have triggered the bloom."

Without looking at them under a microscope it's impossible to tell what kind of algae turned the pool green.

"There's hundred of species of these green algae which could grow quite happily in a swimming pool, so it's hard to say without seeing them," said Henson.

"It might look a bit unsightly, but algae are natural, and they've said these ones are safe, so there should be no problem for the swimmers."

Another explanation floating around was copper. But though copper can turn water green, it doesn't tend to make it cloudy.

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

According to a pool chemistry handbook by the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, copper is a "common cause" of green water in pools, and is indicated by a "true clear green" colour – not the cloudy green water seen in Rio.

(Bonus fact: Copper is also the reason blonde hair turns green in the pool.)

Either way, officials said that the water had been tested and did not pose any risk for athletes.

The water quality at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre was tested and there were no risks for the athletes. We are investigating the cause.

UPDATE: A spokesperson has now said the colour change was due to a "sudden decrease in the alkalinity in the diving pool".

Henson said that "it's possible" that this change could cause an algae bloom.

"Different species of algae are adapted to different ranges in temperature, nutrients and pH," she said. "So if something caused the pH to increase (i.e. water becomes more alkaline) that might have triggered a bloom of a particular type of algae."

UPDATE: A spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the "decrease in alkalinity" was the reason for the green colour, and said that this was due to the "increased use of the pool in the last few weeks."

Another pool that is used for water polo and synchronised swimming pool is also affected, they said. The chlorine levels and pH of both the pools are "within the required standards" and are expected to return to normal in the next few days.

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