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Bubble waves

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In January, the beaches of New South Wales, Australia, were turned into a giant bubble bath. Kids jumped in and surfers took to the waves. But what exactly was going on? 

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The freaky frothy foam created along the coast is said to be caused by algae in the water being churned up by the waves (a phenomenon seen in various seas around the world). A local council spokesperson claimed the foam was 'a natural occurrence caused by wind and wave action breaking down the cells of brown algae of the Genus Phaeocystis [pictured below]. These algal cells contain alginate – a substance that is used to make beer foamier and ice-cream creamier.'

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Beer and ice cream. Sounds fun. Unfortunately some scientists aren't so sure about the benign nature of the foam. Researchers at USC (the charmingly-named University of the Sunshine Coast) believe impurities generated by sewage and run-off such as motor oils (like that dumped by passing ships) are bonding into molecules, making it sticky, smelly and dark-colored. RM

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  • Johanna

    May 10, 2008

    It’s a funny little thing that it makes bubbles but when you think about it, it’s an ocean! Our pollution is turning normal water into a foamy substance. I think I prefer normal salt water rather than bubbles for an ocean any day, because honestly, how romantic is the sun setting over the

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