Oceans white with foam, mate!


This is cool. Natural phenomena, the stuff that makes geography really interesting — where and what is this? (Pictures from August 2007)

Surfer emerges from foam in New South Wales

It was as if someone had poured tons of coffee and milk into the ocean, then switched on a giant blender.

Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney were transformed into the Cappuccino Coast.

Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards’ centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales.

One minute a group of teenage surfers were waiting to catch a wave, the next they were swallowed up in a giant bubble bath. The foam was so light that they could puff it out of their hands and watch it float away.

Perhaps a good geography warm-up: Where are these pictures from? What is the phenomenon shown in the photos? Why might it be unusual for these people to be swimming in the ocean in August?

Natural ocean foam, covering the surf club at Yamba, New South Wales, Australia

A reasonable explanation exists:

It stretched for 30 miles out into the Pacific in a phenomenon not seen at the beach for more than three decades.

Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed.

All are churned up together by powerful currents which cause the water to form bubbles.

These bubbles stick to each other as they are carried below the surface by the current towards the shore.

As a wave starts to form on the surface, the motion of the water causes the bubbles to swirl upwards and, massed together, they become foam.

The foam “surfs” towards shore until the wave “crashes”, tossing the foam into the air.

Update:  Make ocean foam in your classroom, and discover which molecules make the foam.  Instructions here, from the Pfizer Foundation Discovery Lab at the New York Hall of Science.

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8 Responses to Oceans white with foam, mate!

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    See, here’s the thing, Mr. Adams: You got the wrong site. We don’t sell bathtubs here. We soak in them, or soak your head in them. Bark up another bathtub, will you?

    Like

  2. adamsjoe says:

    Hi Sir,M
    Am Mr Adams and i will like to order bath tub from your shop.I
    will appreciate if you can email me with the types and prizes you have
    in stock as well as the method of payment you accept so i can know the
    quantity to order.Thank you.

    Best Regards,
    Mr Adams

    Like

  3. Nicholas Thompson says:

    In British Columbia sometimes huge amounts of foam are generated by mass spawning (sperm and eggs- eew!). Although I’ve seen footage of this phenomenon stretching kilometers of coast, it still looked nothing like these images. Perhaps a combination of events contributed to this? I can’t wait to to find out. Very interesting- thanks.

    Like

  4. [...] ocean foam in your classroom! I’m not sure exactly why, but my post on ocean foam in Australia continues to be one of the most [...]

    Like

  5. oceallaigh says:

    Believe it or not, there are species of algae (“surf diatoms”) that are adapted to life on sandy shores with surf. They can occasionally grow to sufficient density to cause foamy surf in places like Australia, New Zealand, California, and Oregon – because, as they grow, they secrete gooey stuff into the water that helps foam up the surf.

    There was something extra going on here, though, I reckon.

    Like

  6. dorigo says:

    That is pretty impressive! Thank you for posting this, I had never seen the phenomenon pictured.

    Cheers,
    T.

    Like

  7. I want to see that!

    Like

Play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes.

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