What's that Floating in the Water?

Dec 4, 2015

You may have noticed what appeared to be white chunks of ice floating in the Brazos river this week. While winter is coming, it isn't that cold in the Heart of Texas for that to actually happen. So what's the deal?

What you've seen floating in the Brazos is actually water foam. "Naturally occurring foam can form as the result of the leaves, twigs, or other organic material falling into the water and decaying," Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in an e-mail. 

It's common to see water foam appear, especially during the wintertime when trees and other organic material begin to die. "When this material begins to decompose, the oils contained in the plant cells are released and float to the surface," continues the TECQ's reply. "The accumulation of these plant oils changes the physical nature of the water making it easier for air to mix with the water to form bubbles. The bubbles congregate into foam."

Water foam can also by the byproduct of pollution. 

According to Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, naturally occurring water foam"is usually persistent, light, not slimy to the touch." Naturally occurring foam also retains an earthy odor, whereas polluted foam gives off a soapy, fragrant smell. 

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management offers up more information on foam - both naturally occurring and polluted foam - here