Thursday, January 31, 2013

Speaking of Surfactants

Looks like Australia got quite the bubble bath!

Tropical Cyclone Oswald, which passed by the eastern coast earlier this week, left in its wake a mass of fluffy, off-white sea foam, which the Atlantic Cities blog commented "[smelled] like the underside of a flatulent elephant seal." The foam, piles of which measured several feet tall, stalled commutes and rendered certain city streets nearly impassable:

Beach scene
YouTube - "Foam Day"
From AP / USA Today

So, what's causing this frothy mess? Two possibilities: either lignans and lipids from offshore algae, or decaying organic matter washed out to sea from land. The surfactant activity of the biomaterials, combined with rapid water agitation by the storm, have whipped up some stinky suds.

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