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Marine Oil Snow, and Other Complications of Organic Matter

NOVEMBER 22, 2021 ─ So, what is marine snow? Can we even see it? Possibly, but in reality, marine snow are extremely small particles that float slowly from the surface of a body of water to the floor, found both in bodies of fresh and salt water. On November 18, Dr. Uta Passow, an expert on this subject, presented on this as part of the OR&R You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know Lecture Series.

Lecture poster.
Image credit: NOAA.

Typically going unnoticed to the human eye, marine snow has a serious effect on seafloor organisms by providing a constant source of food. Why are they related to oil spills? Well, while oil does a great job of dispersing on the surface, most types begin to break down with sunlight and begin to degrade with the crashing of the sea waves. But not all oil stays on the surface. Oil tends to stick together or to other objects when undisturbed. This is where the marine snow comes into play. The oil will attach to this marine snow and hitch a ride to the sea floor where there is a lack of sunlight and wave action to help in the breakdown process. This causes the degradation process to slow down and thus causing the oil to stay on the seafloor a lot longer. Thanks to Dr. Passow’s team, although this layer of oil is deep down on the seafloor, it is out of sight, but no longer out of mind. 

If you missed this month's episode of You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, don’t worry, it was recorded! The password to view the episode is: Knowledge

From our team to yours, have a wonderful, safe Holiday Season and we will see you back on the show at the same time, same place January 20, 2022 at 3pm ET.

Last updated Tuesday, November 8, 2022 1:42pm PST