CLOSE
Original image

What the Heck Is Sea Foam?

Original image

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.

Original image
iStock
arrow
science
Why a Howling Wind Sounds So Spooky, According to Science
Original image
iStock

Halloween is swiftly approaching, meaning you'll likely soon hear creepy soundtracks—replete with screams, clanking chains, and howling winds—blaring from haunted houses and home displays. While the sound of human suffering is frightful for obvious reasons, what is it, exactly, about a brisk fall gust that sends shivers up our spines? In horror movie scenes and ghost stories, these spooky gales are always presented as blowing through dead trees. Do bare branches actually make the natural wailing noises louder, or is this detail added simply for atmospheric purposes?

As the SciShow's Hank Green explains in the video below, wind howls because it curves around obstacles like trees or buildings. When fast-moving air goes around, say, a tree, it splits up as it whips past, before coming back together on the other side. Due to factors such as natural randomness, air speed, and the tree's surface, one side's wind is going to be slightly stronger when the two currents rejoin, pushing the other side's gust out of the way. The two continue to interact back-and-forth in what could be likened to an invisible wrestling match, as high-pressure airwaves and whirlpools mix together and vibrate the air. If the wind is fast enough, this phenomenon will produce the eerie noise we've all come to recognize in horror films.

Leafy trees "will absorb some of the vibrations in the air and dull the sound, but without leaves—like if it's the middle of the winter or the entire forest is dead—the howling will travel a lot farther," Green explains. That's why a dead forest on a windy night sounds so much like the undead.

Learn more by watching SciShow's video below.

Original image
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
arrow
Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
Original image
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios