Strange but commonplace science from Washington, Oregon Coast
Posted 10/10/20 at 6:54 PM PDT
From employees of the Oregon Coast Beach Connection
(Long Beach, Washington) – The ocean and the soft sand it creates are the most dynamic environments on earth, and often offer the wildest, craziest surprises when you know where to look. At first glance, the coasts of the Pacific Northwest are a beautiful piece of landscape and one impressive sight after another, a series of wonders that are complex and as large as the horizon itself. But from the varied sea stacks and arches of the south coast from Brookings to Bandon, the 40 mile long dunes between Coos Bay and Florence to the varied headlands and long stretches of beach through Washington, there are whole worlds to discover. (Above: strange fossils on Fogarty Beach, Depoe Bay).
Part of it is under your feet or in the sea – part is high in the sky.
Fossils on Moolack Beach in Newport
Ancient history in the rocks. Fossils are abundant on the Oregon and Washington coasts, but you need to know where to look. Ancient life forms that are millions of years old are generally found in places where rock bottoms are revealed and cliffs are more than a few million years old. Hence, winter is a better time to look for them, as the sand is then washed away by waves and sometimes the bedrock becomes visible.
The finds and possibilities are almost limitless: primitive forms of scallops, crabs, shark teeth, or fossilized pieces of wood are some of the most common items, but some beaches have been known to spawn entire skeletons of things like super old seals.
Remember, in either state, you are only allowed to keep what’s loose and spinning on the beach – nothing that’s embedded in rock or cliff.
In Washington, one of the hotspots is at the entrance to Murdock Beach near Port Angeles (also known as Fossil Beach). Grays Harbor can also be a good provider of ancient living things and plants.
Oregon is home to some of the best fossil hunting in the Newport area, particularly Beverly Beach or Moolack Beach. Fogarty Beach, near Depoe Bay, is as famous for these small pieces of geological history as are many of the beaches north of Cape Blanco on the southern Oregon coast. Wild ‘n Wacky on the Oregon Coast: Freaky Facts, Fossils, Rumors
What is sea foam? The soapy water that occasionally pollutes the beaches is not polluted. According to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, sea foam is created by breaking down the skeletons of tiny unicellular plants called phytoplankton. When strong winds and waves throw air into the water, its dissolved organic matter helps create bubbles.
Protein from dead microscopic plants increases the surface tension of seawater and creates bubbles when air is added.
You can find the Hatfield Marine Science Center at 2030 Marine Science Dr. in Newport, Oregon. (541) 867-0167. Science experts: what is sea foam?
The green lightning at sunset. Much revered, but rather rare, the Green Lightning went from obscure scientific curiosity to explosive legendary status at sunset from around 2000 to perhaps ten years later. Now, if you gather at any vantage point with many other strangers to catch the sunset, chances are there will be at least two people chatting around you.
What you will see is a greenish haze of a blob over the sunset – or more often the sunset itself turns quite green just before it drops over the horizon.
The green flash is the result of different layers of the atmosphere between you and the sun. In the simplest case, under the right conditions, these layers block all but the green bands of the spectrum, making the sphere green.
Westport Light State Park, Washington (Courtesy Washington State Parks)
How can you see it? You need a clear atmosphere between you and the horizon (no clouds) and even then this is not guaranteed. Higher vantage points like Cape Blanco, Cape Foulweather, Neahkahnie Mountain or Westport Light State Park and Cape Disappointment on the Washington coast can be helpful. Odd Weather Cousins on the Oregon Coast: Green Flash and the Novaya Zemlya
Bull kelp. These wild, weird whip-like finds on the beaches of Oregon or Washington are confusing to many, but they are common off both coasts. Called bull wrack, they live in upside-down forests off the coast, with the bulbs on top of the green, slimy stalk, often 20 to 100 feet tall. They grow out of rocky reef structures below and hold them in place with so-called holdfasts.
These light bulbs, swinging in the water, are often falsely highlighted as seals on the surface of the sea. However, if you don’t see the little heads moving after about 30 seconds, you are seeing a bull kelp and not a seal or sea lion.
They live about a year or so, and sometimes storms pull them up off the ground and toss them up in huge piles on the beach. Bull Kelp and its Festivals: Crazy World of the Upside Down Forests on the Oregon Coast
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