What is Sea Foam

The formation of Ocean Foam also called Sea Foam, Beach Foam, or Spume is found in different coastal regions around the world, some places worse than others and is considered a natural phenomenon but its occurrence can be due to human activities creating problems for residents living near the water. What is Ocean Foam?

Sea Foam or Ocean Foam is a global phenomenon containing dissolved organic & inorganic proteins, fats, dead algae, detergents, & other pollutants, that act as a surfactant, or foaming agent, which, combined with the pounding of ocean waves, results in large buildups of foam in the H2O & at the beach.

In some parts of the world, Sea Foam can be so bad that it can cause havoc in towns located on the coast, shutting down beaches, stopping traffic, and closing highways and businesses down for extended periods.

What is Sea Foam


Ocean Foam or Sea Foam is a naturally-occurring phenomenon on any type of body of water. This phenomenon is often the result of natural processes, not environmental pollution. When marine life dies, organic matter breaks down, and a substantial amount of particulate organic carbon is released into the ocean along with some man-made pollution that is added from nearby coastal communities.

The white foam on the ocean is called Sea foam which forms when dissolved organic matter in the ocean is churned up. What is sea Foam?  Seawater contains dissolved salts, proteins, fats, dead algae, detergents, other pollutants, and a bunch of other bits and pieces of organic and artificial matter.

If you shake this glass of ocean water vigorously, small bubbles will form on the surface of the liquid. Algal blooms are one common source of thick sea foams. When large blooms of algae decay offshore, great amounts of decaying algal matter often wash ashore. Foam forms as this organic matter are churned up in open water and then again by the surf at the beach.



What is Sea Foam(Ocean) Made Of


The composition of sea foam is generally a mixture of decomposed organic or living things, and materials, including zooplankton, phytoplankton, and algae including diatoms, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, and vascular plant detritus, though each occurrence of sea foam varies in its specific contents.

The foam is usually white, or an off-white shade. But it can sometimes be a reddish-brown, it all depends on what’s actually in the water. Thick sea foams are commonly caused by algal blooms. When significant algae bloom dies offshore, large amounts of decaying marine or algal materials frequently and eventually wash up on shore.

As the wave churns up this biological debris, bubbles, and then foam develops. The Feeling of sea foam is natural foam is usually persistent, light, and not slimy to the touch.

There have been many explanations of what ocean foam is made of some from science and even some from folklore.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the phenomenon, known as Sea Foam, is a natural occurrence in ocean water that has nothing to do with one such story that the foamy substance is from a whale or any other exotic substance.

Long-lasting sea foam is always a sign that the water is not pure, which doesn’t mean it is necessarily toxic – it’s seawater mixed with other components. However, the presence of fossil fuels, stormwater runoff, herbicides, pesticides, and high concentrations of other human-processed contaminants may transform it into a more or less toxic foam.


Does Organic Matter Cause Sea Foam


Sea Foam, Ocean Foam, Beach Foam, or Spume is a type of foam created by the agitation of seawater, particularly when it contains higher concentrations of dissolved organic matter including proteins, lignins, and lipids derived from sources such as offshore breakdown of algal blooms.  Read about here- What causes Sea Foam.

Sea foam forms as this organic matter is churned up by the surf. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Red Tide’ it can be caused by the presence of waste products created by human activities. In order for foam to form, you need air, water, and a key third ingredient called a surfactant.

Air can be trapped inside these waste products proteins, fats, and dead algae, and form bubbles close to the shore brought in by ocean tides, currents, or wind, which stick to each other through surface tension. In order for foam to form, you need air, water, and a key third ingredient of molecules called surfactants.

A Surfactant is a kind of sticky molecule that clings to the surface between water and air. This molecule is man-made and comes from fertilizers, industrial waste, and even sewage in the ocean.

All Surfactants have one thing in common. One end of the molecule is hydrophilic which means it’s attracted to water. The other end of the molecule is hydrophobic which means it’s repelled by water.

What Causes Thick Ocean Foam on the Beach


Large swells or storms and high concentrations of organic debris along with the help of wind direction or turbulence create natural foam occurrences on the beach to coincide with the onshore winds. Layers of thick foam can be found along a shoreline and form columns of foamy blooms on the surface of incoming open waters during windy days.

When high concentrations of sea foam accumulate in the oceans happens they usually end up washing up on the beach and look like a brown or reddish type of ocean foam in the surf. Large amounts of foamy decaying algal matter often wash ashore and then into coastal towns and communities.

Dissolved organic material in the sea water is churned up and smashed up against the shore generating even more sea foam on the coast as a result. Algal blooms are a typical source of thick sea foam, and they may be found in a variety of locations.

When enormous blooms of algae wash in from offshore, they can contaminate the water supply closing beaches and businesses. Sea Foam can become aerosol mixed with the surf creating sea spray that is unhealthy for breathing near the beaches.


 Is Sea Foam Dangerous?

Most sea foam is not harmful to humans and is just an indicator of an over-productive ocean ecosystem. But when large harmful algal blooms decay near shore, they can create an aerosol that can irritate the eyes of beachgoers & poses a health risk for those with asthma .…………………………………… Read more 


JimGalloway Author/Editor



NOAA- Ocean Foam

MyWaterEarth&SkyWhat Causes Sea Foam


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