Oregon Coast Foam Puts on Spectacular but Deadly Display
Just What IS Sea Foam? see the answer here
(Oregon Coast) – Recent storm action out to sea has kicked up the surf of the Oregon coast this past week, creating some monster waves to the delight of surfers and huge chunks of billowy foam that amuses beachgoers.
But birds have not been so happy, getting killed in large numbers, in part because of that foam.
Sea foam itself is primarily created by the tiny skeletons of a kind of phytoplankton called diatoms, and it is harmless.
Bill Hanshumaker, public information officer for the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, said it starts with the breakdown of the skeletons of tiny single-celled plants. When high wind and waves churn air into the water, their dissolved organic matter helps to create bubbles.
Protein from the dead microscopic plants increases the seawater's surface tension, producing bubbles when air is added.
Add to that enormous wave action from stormy winds and you get monster chunks of billowy foam, at least on the north coast during this week.
The problem now is that a single-celled algae called Akashiwo sanguinea has been growing in Oregon and Washington waters, and that has been killing seabirds in abundance. It appears to be mixed in and churned up because of the stormy waves.
The algae – although harmless to humans or pets – washes off the natural oils that seabirds have to keep them insulated from the cold. Without that oil, they get hypothermia and die. They've been washing up on the beaches covered in foam - usually dead.
Normally, these algae multiply off California’s waters, but it hasn’t been seen in Oregon and Washington before, puzzling scientists across the northwest.
Whale biologist and ocean tour guide Carrie Newell, who is based out of Depoe Bay, said there hasn’t been any rough waves or masses of sea foam on the central coast. That region hasn’t had any reports of dead birds either, so it appears to be limited to the northern Oregon coast and Washington coast.
Newell said she didn’t have a clue why the north coast was so different than the central coast in temperament in recent days.
“Maybe there was more of a phytoplankton bloom up there, and then they die and they make the foam,” Newall said. “And then there were more winds up there to stir them up. I don’t know.”
Whatever deadly aspects the ocean has had for seabirds, it’s created some spectacular sights on the north coast, however. Thursday, the beaches there were covered in gargantuan, unpredictable waves. Local surfers had been waxing on about it all week. Places like Arch Cape appeared to be completely underwater, from the vantage point of the highway above. Manzanita’s beach was full of huge breakers, and then wild sneaker waves that would send masses of foam flying halfway up this usually broad, sandy strand.
Friday saw sizably less waves, although they were still rather dramatic.
Keith Chandler, of the Seaside Aquarium, noted the huge difference.
“The sea was half as big today as it was yesterday,” Chandler said. “Yesterday was huge mammoth, waves. It was a boiling cauldron of death out there.”
Friday, large heaps of foam inhabited Cannon Beach as well as Manzanita, making for lots of strange sights. The beaches found people weaving in and out of them and checking them out closely.
Chandler said Seaside didn’t appear to have the same foamy action.Fairly active conditions are expected to last for a few more days, which will likely keep lots of the foam around the beaches of the north coast.
More About Oregon Coast lodging....