Brown waves return to the North Oregon coast. Could that mean glowing waves?

Brown waves return to the North Oregon coast. Could that mean glowing waves?

Posted on 6/12/21 at 5:52 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

(Seaside, Oregon) – More fun, the oceanic weirdness is on display on the North Oregon Coast – or at least until the rains hit. (All photos courtesy of Seaside Aquarium)

Seaside’s Tiffany Boothe spent the lovely weekend strolling the beach and made at least one interesting discovery: Brown waves are in the Seaside area again.

Boothe has also managed to capture some stunning sunsets in recent weeks, which she shared with the Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

On the pitch, however, there’s another wacky spectacle going on. Brown waves in the coastal area from Seaside to southern Washington mean something interesting is happening – lots and lots of phytoplankton.

No, it’s not pollution – a presumption many jump on, especially if those waves get weirdly slimy and oily. That’s actually a good thing, according to Boothe and Seaside Aquarium director Keith Chandler. The culprits are tiny forms of algae called phytoplankton, which you may remember being at the bottom of the food chain in the ocean, something just about everything feeds on.

“Diatoms are single-celled plants (phytoplankton) that are found in both fresh and salt water,” Boothe said. “They are one of the most important food sources in the ocean. In winter, spring and early summer, diatoms multiply rapidly in the surf area. Diatoms absorb large amounts of nitrates and phosphates which are delivered to the ocean by coastal rivers, contributing to the explosion of their populations. [Freaky, Gooey Brown Waves Again on Washington, Oregon Coast, Video ]

When the waters here turn brown, it just means there’s so much of it. It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t really happen on the south coast or the central coast of Oregon – really just the Seaside area in Warrenton and parts of the south coast of Washington.

Scientists say it has something to do with all the good nutrients that flow down the Columbia River.

“It’s not really a stain because it’s a lot of stuff that accumulates on beaches,” Chandler said. “The stuff, like the brown bubbles, is a bit oily, but that doesn’t mean it’s oil. A lot has just piled up on the beaches. The tide will come to clean it. Just like a ketchup stain, it comes out right away.

Diatoms are also the basis of bubbles in waves all over the Oregon and Washington coast. That meerschaum that you find, sometimes in huge snow-like tufts, is basically one type of phytoplankton or another.

It’s actually their skeletons (yes, they’re microscopic, so there are billions of them right around you) that interact with seawater and create a sort of stickiness, causing the tiny shapes to bubble out of the water. the bubbling ocean. [Oregon Coast Science Experts: What is Sea Foam? ]

Another exceptionally cool thing about a lot of brown waves at Seaside? It could be an omen for something else: glowing sands. If there are that many diatoms, there is a good chance that there is also a large bloom of dinoflagellates, the form of phytoplankton that is bioluminescent. Bioluminescent Phytoplankton: What Makes Glowing Sand on the Oregon Coast, Washington

This would be a good time to check the Washington Coast or the North Oregon Coast at night for glowing sand or glowing waves, but precipitation usually kills these creatures, certainly on beaches. If the brown waves persist when the weather clears up, then you’ll want to check out these beaches after dark.

Other photos below, including Boothe’s outstanding captures of recent seaside sunsets.

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