Snow day!! the ocean?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 by Savannah

There is snow in the forecast here in Portland over the next couple of days. Did you know that it also "snows" in the ocean? Marine snow isn't made of regular snowflakes, though; it's actually made up of tiny pieces of debris. Marine snow is like the "compost" of the ocean, because it is usually made up of things that were once alive. 


If you're waiting for an underwater snow day, however, you would be waiting for a while: marine snow can fall for WEEKS before the reach the ocean floor! So, while a winter storm here in Portland might dump a foot of snow on the ground in a day, it could take hundreds of years (or more) to bury something at the bottom of the ocean with marine snow. And that's if the flakes even make it down that deep: because marine snow contains important elements like carbon and nitrogen that things living in the ocean need to grow, it often gets gobbled up before it reaches the ocean floor.   


Marine snow is an important food source for marine animals, and is also important to the carbon cycle. Scientists measure marine snow using traps. On land, we tend to see more snow in colder places or higher elevations; in the ocean, however, marine snow actually falls heaviest at the Equator. Next time you're swimming in open water with goggles on, see if you can spot any marine snow! 


To see what it looks like underwater, check out this video: 


1. Thumbnail image: U.S. Navy, Official Photographer's Mate 1st Class Glen J. Hurd


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