Why Sea Foams

Compared to lakes and rivers, seawater is much foamier.

Seawater froths and foams in ways that freshwater rarely does. A new study pinpoints the ocean’s electrolytes as the reason bubbles resist merging there. By studying the final moments before bubbles coalesce in both pure and salt water, researchers found that dissolved salts slow down the drainage of the thin film of liquid between two bubbles. Once the film reaches a 30-50 nanometer thickness, its electrolyte concentration causes a difference in surface tension that slows the outward flow of liquid in the film. That keeps the film in place longer and makes bubbles form foams instead of merging or popping. (Image credit: P. Kuzovkova; research credit: B. Liu et al.; via APS Physics)

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