Silent Snow

I live less than a mile from the MSC, so I often walk to work. Its a great way to be eco-friendly while also getting some exercise and enjoying the outdoors! I read in NatGeo a couple years ago that by leaving the car at home and choosing an alternate form of transportation (public, walking etc.), just one day a week, we all can all substantially reduce our carbon footprint. Ok enough of this eco-friendly tangent (don’t even get me started on plastic bags…).

Anyway, last night, I was walking home from the lab, admiring the pristine scene of snow gently falling on the calm water in Canoe Beach Cove, and I heard something quite wonderful: silence.

It got me thinking, why is it often so quiet during and/or after snowfall? On my own I came up with a couple ideas: perhaps it has to do with changes in pressure associated with snow (I don’t know much about meteorology, but pressure changes often seem to driving factors in weather events). Or maybe its just that most animals (including people) seek shelter and/or reduce their activity when it snows. With some initial hypotheses in mind, I decided to do some internet research. As usual, google helped me find answers quickly, and I learned that there are entire lab groups who study snow acoustics. Browsing the website of the SNOW Interest Group taught me that pores in the snow absorb energy from acoustic waves, so as the wave passes over the snow, the sound energy can be reduced considerably, creating a hush over snow covered landscapes. In contrast, acoustic waves bounce off and are propagated by solid surfaces such as water or asphalt, which leads to the phenomenon in which you can hear someone talking in the water at the beach, even if they are far away.

So I guess my pressure idea wasn’t exactly right. However, one website did mention that creatures reduce activity in the snow, so my hypothesizing was not in vain!

One thing this inquiry made me realize, is that for every scientific question you come up with, there is probably someone researching that very question. And if there isn’t maybe you should!

Snowy sunset at the MSC
Silent snowy sunset at the MSC

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