Frothy For-Sure

13 Jan 2011 0 Share

Surfers get their froth on at Snapper Wednesday morning.

Surfers get their froth on at Snapper Wednesday morning.

Gold Coast surfers woke yesterday morning to find beaches covered in dirty snow-coloured foam and looking like someone had spilt a giant cappuccino.

Though this isn’t the first time the bizarre event has happened at the Gold Coast beaches, surfers might wonder whether or not it’s a good idea to get in the water.
This foam phenomenon has occurred on the East Coast in the past, mainly during periods of onshore winds and large swells. In August 2007 Yamba’s shoreline was inundated by sea foam building up overhead on the beach.

So, what is all the froth about?

When waves break, turbulent water traps air bubbles creating whitewash. Sea foam is produced through a similar process. Wave action agitates impurities in the water such as phytoplankton, dead plant and animal matter and other organic material creating bubbles and foam.

During heavy rain stormwater runoff floods the ocean with debris and other organic matter, setting up conditions for a foamy coastline. Strong onshore winds and large waves then complete the recipe.

According to Dr Darrell Strauss, coastal guru from Griffith University Centre for Coastal Management, “predominantly strong onshore winds and big swells initiate sea foam.” He attributes the sea foam episode to the combination of runoff from rain, strong onshore winds and large wave heights experienced this week.

Short period local wind swell initiates conditions for sea foam. Coastal storms hold more energy amplifying the process and like bubbles in a bath, the process is self-perpetuating, with potential to engulf the entire beach in froth.

Though the Gold Coast beaches are no strangers to erosion and losing sand, they have suffered more erosion than usual recently due to storm events which leave an escarpment. Experts from Griffith University have observed more foam forming on eroded coastlines, where waves abruptly meet a cliff left as a result of sand erosion. They also believe the shape of breaking wave affects how much foam is made, and where it will end up.

So, should surfers worry about browning their boardies?

Sea foam itself is a natural process and is not inherently dangerous, however unidentified impurities in the water could be. Gold Coast beaches are often closed after heavy rain until run off, containing pollutants, is flushed from the line up. Gold Coast City Council also recommends people should keep away from the foam in case of submerged rocks or being swept away under the foam. Safety first.

With a tropical cyclone currently brewing out in the Coral Sea, coastal conditions look set to foam up a storm again soon. So while east coasters are stoking on new big swells coming into the beach, nature is frothing too. For sure.

- Bridget Reedman

Tags: QLD , coastal , interest (create Alert from these tags)

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