What is Sea Foam?

PrintPrintEmailEmailSaveSave
Image Credit: 
Creative Commons
Main Image: 
Sea foam.

Sea foam, ocean foam, beach foam, or spume is a type of foam created by the agitation of seawater, particularly when it contains higher concentrations of dissolved organic matter (including proteins, lignins (a complex chemical compound most commonly derived from wood), and lipids) derived from sources such as the offshore breakdown of algal blooms (an algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae in an aquatic system). These compounds can act as surfactants or foaming agents. As the seawater is churned by breaking waves in the surf zone adjacent to the shore, the presence of these surfactants under these turbulent conditions traps air, forming persistent bubbles which stick to each other through surface tension. Due to its low density and persistence, foam can be blown by strong on-shore winds from the beach face inland onto sidewalks and streets.

 

What are the factors that trigger Sea Foam?

Sea foam is probably created by a combination of different factors. Decaying organic matter such as fish, plant life and microscopic organisms, seaweed (a microorganism that grows in oceans) excretions, and other proteins, and in some cases pollutants, are all carried on tiny air bubbles whipped up by tidal movements. As currents reach the shore and wave forms, the air bubbles well up to the surface sticking together. The wave crashes and the sea foam are delivered to shore.

 

The quantity of foam produced on a shore at any given period can differ as factors alter. One of the microscopic algae, called phytoplankton bloom, could reproduce so rapidly, when conditions are appropriate, so that the biomass can be viewed from space. It has the ability to discolor seawater to a brown or reddish color, which gives the name, ‘Red tide’. Nevertheless, scientists prefer “algae bloom” because the color varies and the bloom is unrelated to tidal movement. Detrimental algae blooms will produce natural toxins and reduce dissolved oxygen levels in the area, triggering an unexpected peter-out of local marine life. The rapid increase in organic waste can donate to superior amounts of sea foam or ocean foam.

 

Do Humans contribute to Sea Foam?

There is also a great contribution to sea foam by Human products, including overflow from farms, factory waste and sewer spills. Foam created from pollutants is mostly brown in color, although sea foam caused by a red tide or other organic sources might also appear brownish. Usually, sea foam which are not produced by pollutants or algae blooms is white.

 

What are the Hazards of sea foam?

  • In exceptional circumstances, huge quantities of sea foam up to several metres thick can build up at the coast and constitute a physical hazard to beach users, through concealing large rocks and voids, storm debris and, in Northern New South Wales, by even sea snakes.
  • Where polluted storm water from rivers or drains discharges to the coast, sea foam formed on neighboring beaches can be polluted with viruses and other contaminants, and may have an unpleasant odor.
  • If crude oil discharged from tankers at sea, or motor oil, sewage and detergents from polluted storm water are present, the resulting sea foam is even more persistent, and can have a texture of chocolate mousse.
  • If the foam forms from the breakdown of a harmful algal bloom (including those caused by some dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria), direct contact with the foam, or inhalation of aerosols derived the foam as it dries, can cause skin irritations or other respiratory discomfort.

 

Does Sea Foam kill sea birds?

Sea foam was allied to the deaths and stranding of hundreds of migrating seabirds on the Monterey Coast in California, in 2007. In the beginning, scientists were bewildered when the birds were found coated with a yellowish greenish substance, matting the feathers. As a result, the feathers lost their insulating property, and 207 birds died from the cold sea while 550 others were abandoned. Ultimately, scientists associated a current nontoxic algae bloom that had resulted in sea foam with the problematic residue on the birds.

 

What is the great amount of sea foam ever recorded?

Although, most beachcombers experience sea foam as relatively small pockets of foamy bubbles, in some situations, there is a formation of colossal amounts of the airy froth. In August of 2007 surfers on the water in Yamba, Australia just north of Sydney were in for a big surprise. A literal wall of sea foam came drifting in to envelop the beach. The foam dwarfed beachgoers, covering the shore, even pushing up on to nearby buildings including the lifeguard center. The strange scene, dubbed the “Cappuccino Coast,” was captured in photos so incredible that fact-finding websites were approached to find their legitimacy.

 

What are some other remarkable occurrences of Sea Foam?

Other sea foam occurences at Caloundra and Point Cartwright on Queensland's Sunshine Coast in January–February 2008, also attracted world-wide media attention. Caloundra is the southernmost community on the Sunshine Coast in South East Queensland, Australia. Queensland is a state of Australia that occupies the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. The Sunshine Coast (population 312,804 with up to an additional 50,000 in visitors and seasonal workers) is a coastal region of Australia located in South East Queensland.

External References
Related Videos: 
See video
Related Images: