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Strange But Everyday Science of Washington, Oregon Coast

Published 10/10/20 at 6:54 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Strange But Everyday Science of Washington, Oregon Coast

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(Long Beach, Washington) – The ocean and those soft sands that it creates are the most dynamic environments on Earth, and often yield the wildest, freakiest surprises if you know where to look. At first glance, the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest are one beautiful chunk of scenery and striking sight after another, an array of wonders that are multi-layered and as vast as the horizon itself. Yet from the varied sea stacks and arches of the south coast from Brookings through Bandon, the 40 miles of dunes between Coos Bay and Florence, to the varied headlands and long stretches of beaches through Washington, there are whole worlds to discover. (Above: odd fossils at Fogarty Beach, Depoe Bay).

Some of it is beneath your feet or in the ocean – some of it is high in the sky.

Fossils at Newport's Moolack Beach

Ancient History in the Rocks. Fossils abound along the Oregon and Washington coastlines, but you have to know where to look. Ancient lifeforms that are millions of years old are generally found in places where bedrock shows and where cliffs are older than a few million years. Thus, winter is a better time to go looking for them, as that’s when sand levels get scoured out by wave action and bedrock is sometimes revealed.

The finds and possibilities are nearly endless: primitive forms of scallops, crabs, shark teeth or petrified bits of wood are some of the most common items, but some beaches have been known to yield entire skeletons of things like super ancient seals.

Keep in mind, in both states you are only allowed to keep what is loose and banging around the beach – not anything embedded in bedrock or cliffs.

In Washington, one of the hotspots is along the inlet at Murdock Beach near Port Angeles (it’s also known as Fossil Beach). Grays Harbor can also be a good provider of ancient critters and plants.

In Oregon, some of the best fossil hunting happens in the Newport area, especially Beverly Beach or Moolack Beach. Fogarty Beach near Depoe Bay is also smokin’ for these little bits of Earth history, as are many beaches just north of Cape Blanco on the southern Oregon coast. Wild 'n Wacky on Oregon Coast: Freaky Facts, Fossils, Rumors

What is Sea Foam? The billows of soapsuds that occasionally litter the beaches aren't from pollution. According to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, sea foam is created from the breakdown of the skeletons of tiny single-celled plants called phytoplankton. 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.

You can find the Hatfield Marine Science Center at 2030 Marine Science Dr. in Newport, Oregon. (541) 867-0167. Science Experts: What is Sea Foam?

The Green Flash At Sunset. Much-revered but rather rare, the Green Flash at Sunset went from obscure science oddity to explosive legendary status from about 2000 to maybe ten years later. Now, as you gather with many other strangers along any viewpoint to catch the sunset, it’s likely the subject of chatter among at least two people around you.

What you’ll see is a greenish haze of a blob above the sunset – or more often the sunset itself turning rather green just before it descends beyond the horizon.

The green flash is the result of various layers of atmosphere between you and the sun. In simplest terms, under the right set of conditions those layers will block out all but the green bands of the spectrum, causing the orb to turn green.

Westport Light State Park, Washington (courtesy Washington State Parks)

How to see it? You need a clear atmosphere between you and the horizon (no clouds), and even then it’s not guaranteed. Higher vantage points can help, such as Cape Blanco, Cape Foulweather, Neahkahnie Mountain, or Westport Light State Park and Cape Disappointment on the Washington coast. Strange Weather Cousins on the Oregon Coast: Green Flash and the Novaya Zemlya 

Bull Kelp. Those wild, weird whip-like finds on the beaches of Oregon or Washington confuse many, but they’re a common thing off both coastlines. They’re called bull kelp, and they live in upside down forests just offshore, with the bulbs at the top of what is often 20 to 100 feet of green, slimy stalk. They grow from rocky reef structures below, holding to them with what are called holdfasts.

Those bulbs bobbing in the water often get them mistakenly pointed out as seals at the ocean’s surface. However, if you don’t see the little heads move on after about 30 seconds or so, you’re looking at a bull kelp and not a seal or sea lion.

They live about a year or so, and sometimes storms yank them up off the bottom and toss them up in enormous piles on the beach. Bull Kelp and Their Holdfasts: Wacky World of Upside Down Forests on Oregon Coast

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