Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Acres and Acres of Foam

Foam invaded our personal space at the Heron’s Nest Vacation Rental in Cape Meares, Oregon.  Four adults (our daughter Mandy and her Mike, Karen and I) have about as much experience with an electric dishwasher as Lewis and Clark had with renting a vacation rental on the Oregon coast.  Thus, as usual, we just washed dishes by hand during our entire week -- that is until we read the instructions for leaving the house.  "Put the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on as you leave." Maybe we should practice.

OK, no problem.  Let’s see -- two bottles and the small one we know is dish soap.  The big one must be dishwasher soap, so we’ll just pour some of this fluid in the cup for washing.  Oh heck, let’s put some in the rinse cup, too.  Fill ‘em up.  We want these dishes clean.

Somewhere in dishwasher manuals a warning must be inscribed -- always read the label on soap bottles.  We didn’t have one of those and probably wouldn’t have read the fine print anyway.  It's obvious dirty dishes need soap. 

The first sign of impending disaster came when Mandy noticed a wall of foam creeping across the kitchen floor -- like something from a scene cut from a Steven Spielberg sci fi movie because it was too scary.  As we started running around in all directions -- get a mop -- get some towels -- do something -- help -- it was apparent the foam was gushing in copious quantities from the bottom of the dishwasher.

An urgent call to the manager of the rental led to the conclusion that we had used dish soap which is not the substance of choice for dishwashers -- that there is a distinct difference between dishwasher soap and dish soap.  As usual it’s exhilarating to expand your knowledge base.

Thus, we had a memorable evening bailing the dishwasher of acres of foam, refilling it with rinse water and bailing again.  How much foam can one of these machines hold?  Certainly enough to fill a pool at a hot springs resort to overflowing, I’d say.

    Everyone was in a state of panic as we scooped acres of foam from the dishwasher.

The dishes, you may ask.  Oh, we abandoned the machine to wash them by hand.  The next day when we left, they were all put away in the cabinets.

But nothing at Cape Meares could remotely compare in volume with our second encounter with foam at Rialto Beach on the northwest coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  There it came in the form of a biology merges with chemistry merges with physics lesson.  We’ve always noticed foam and bubbles in ocean surf.  In fact, adding it to seascape paintings is like lighting the candles on a birthday cake.  It shows you really know your "stuff."  However, at Rialto Beach, it seemed like we had returned to a sci fi movie set.

                                           Foam rolling in at Rialto Beach

                            Foam dampens the waves as they roll into the shore.

After extensive research about the situation (I asked a National Park Ranger followed by looking up sea foam on Wikipedia) we learned that warm ocean temperatures this fall had produced a bloom of diatoms -- one celled plankton of which there may be as many as 100,000 species.  Alas, we neglected to bring a microscope on this trip so we could key them out.  So much for our quest for scientific knowledge.

Anyway, when the reported 16-foot seas started breaking down the algal blooms, the dissolved organic matter acted like foaming agents (surfactants -- sticky molecules that separate water from air). -- like dish soap in a dishwasher.  The agitation of the these surfactants by the churning waves along the shoreline traps air in bubbles that stick together until you get foam -- acre upon acre of foam.  During one of our evenings at Rialto Beach the sea foam was so thick that, as it washed up on the shore, winds blew it landward until it piled up on the top of driftwood logs sometimes several feet deep.  

Yes, it's all sea foam.  Somehow this doesn't look like the classic seascape painting subject.
As a consequence, although Karen tried her best to find the perfect rock to bring home from that Beach, we can only surmise that it was hidden somewhere under piles and piles of sea foam.  However, she did manage to find enough substitutes that our car groaned from all the added weight of rocks piles stacked under and behind the seats.

                       Karen, the rock hunter forced up into the driftwood logs by foam.

             Sea foam blown clear up into the trees before it really started to get thick.

Sea foam is comprised of bubbles (it seems to me they should be called sea bubbles) that pile up together following the laws of physics.  These laws mandate they have the minimum surface area which just happens to be a sphere. 

Never mind the spheres.  Karen was more interested in a different attribute of the sea foam.  The piles washed up on the beaches took on all kinds of forms -- like cloud watching converted to bubble watching.

                 ...Bubble watching sometimes augmented by Karen's whimsical side.


casey said...

The bubble bird is my fave! :)

casey said...

The bubble bird is my fave! :)