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Iowa River Foam from Decaying Organic Matter

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - Foam has been bubbling up in the Iowa River by the Burlington Street dam recently, creating quite the distraction for people passing by who wonder what the white stuff is.

Doug Schnoebelen is a water quality specialist with the University of Iowa. He said the foam is caused by decaying organic matter like leaves and twigs. Iowa has had a lot of snow this year, and now that it's melting, a lot of that organic matter is running off into the river and reducing the water's surface tension.

"The water is slipperier," said Schnoebelen, the director of the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station. "Then, as the water goes over the dam it entrains air, because we've reduced the surface tension, and it causes all the bubbles and foam."

So, it turns out nobody is sneaking soap into the water, it's just an all-natural process that happens in every river, each year.

Time to check out the frothy scene is limited. Schnoebelen said as the organic matter entering the water dwindles, bubbles will start to disappear in the next few days.