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Oregon Coast Waves Gone Wild: the Fun of Crazed Foam

Published 08/23/2018 at 5:37 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Oregon Coast Waves Gone Wild: the Fun of Crazed Foam

(Oregon Coast) - Sea foam is an especially fun attraction of storm season on the Oregon coast, but it can get wild ‘n woolly even without major winds close to shore. You may find it happening in late September as coastal weather starts to get a little bumpy now and then.

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With this remarkable and often-overlooked or misunderstood feature come some warnings, however.

Usually it’s fall through spring that sea foam does interesting things, piling up in huge blobs that seem to float effortlessly across the beach. It goes from simple foamy breakers to giant globs on flat sandy spots like those at Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City or Newport. Rocky shelf areas like Yachats or Depoe Bay can make foam do even wilder, crazier things.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officials shared some fascinating background information on the fun phenomena.

“Strong waves and wind injecting air into the ocean and the presence of dissolved organic matter can form sea foam,” ODFW said. “The organic matter is mostly made of dead phytoplankton. The protein from the phytoplankton gives the water enough surface tension to form bubbles.”

These suds-like masses gather together, pushed and smooshed into undulating shapes by surf and winds.

ODFW said many newcomers to the Oregon coast and even state residents find the sight a sign of something bad, as if it’s pollution. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it’s part of a process where the ocean is actually purifying itself.

“Viewed under a microscope, sea foam contains the extraordinarily beautiful glass-like skeletons of the phytoplankton,” ODFW said.

When there’s more foam around, it’s often at least partially because of a phytoplantkon bloom – meaning the tiny plant-like objects have literally bloomed in larger numbers, like plants do.

Most spectacular, however, is when phytoplankton blooms and winds come together to make for gargantuan chunks of sea foam that pull wild stunts like flying across Oregon coast highways and roads, looking like miniature snow flurries. Even more impressive: if the exact conditions of winds and foam are right you get the very rare sight of foam actually flying upwards, especially at the Devil’s Churn near Yachats. It looks like snow going the wrong direction. This can occasionally happen up against large rocks and sea stacks, like Arch Cape.

However, whatever you’re doing while watching this, beach safety should always be your first concern, ODFW said.

“Don't become so entranced by what you find that you stop paying attention to the ocean, however,” the agency said. “A large wave could do more than just get you wet if it drags you out to sea or causes logs on the beach to shift and injure you. For your safety, don’t turn your back on the ocean and stay off beached logs.”

More words of warning: Don’t ignore the warnings.

When things get really crazy, winter can storms shove waves as high as 35 feet onshore, sometimes even up to 40 feet. These kinds of surges generally cause damage and shut down beaches, even many wayside parking lots.

However, it doesn’t take waves that high for Oregon officials to close a beach. Usually 20- to 25-foot waves make for such warnings – and make sure you heed these.

ODFW said such big curlers can hurl large logs onto the beach, and sometimes over railings of waysides – such as at D River in Lincoln City.

The flipside to all this wacky action is that the day following a storm can create a bundle of fun finds, perhaps even the coveted and now-rare Japanese floats. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this event - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

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