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What the Heck Is Sea Foam?

Last night, meteorologist Tucker Barnes, from Washington D.C.’s WTTG-TV, was reporting live on Hurricane Irene from Ocean City, Maryland. As the night wore on, Barnes found himself buried in more and more sea foam blowing in from the beach. And Barnes admitted that he had no idea just what he was standing knee-deep in. (“It’s in my face. As you can imagine, it doesn’t taste great.”)

Besides an engine treatment and a blue-green color popular on Fender guitars, what is sea foam, anyway?

I’ve been waiting almost five years to give this answer to a question on the site, and today is my day: It’s just a bunch of random junk.

I’m mostly serious, too. Dissolved organic matter, like protein, fats and a grab bag of other stuff, is constantly being released by sources like dead fish, seaweed and algal blooms, and it's floating around in the ocean. Tides pull some of this stuff in closer to shoreline and as waves break, they churn seawater, air and all this organic matter together likes the world’s grossest milkshake.

The air and the foaming properties of some of the organic compounds help the mixture form bubbles that stick to each other. When waves hit the shore, the foam is often left behind on the beach, and can then be blown around by the wind.

In hurricane conditions like we had last night, water in the ocean is more agitated, leading to an excess of sandy foam, and strong winds are able to carry the foam farther in from the shore. In these conditions, polluted water and sewage from flooded rivers, drainage systems and streets can also make its way to the ocean, creating sea foam with strange colors, odors and various contaminants. Given the conditions last night and the foam’s color, this extra nasty version was probably what Barnes was wading through on the boardwalk.

A Seasonal Delicacy

While sea foam is pretty gross even under normal conditions, it’s an important part of the coastal food web and acts a reservoir of recycled nutrients for some beach-dwelling animals. The menu even changes depending on the season. Researchers studying sea foam in South Carolina in the late 1980s discovered that the foam is composed mostly of macroalgae (seaweeds) in the fall, winter and early spring, and mostly phytoplankton (microscopic plant-like organisms) in the late spring and summer.

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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
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GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression
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Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

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