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The Grossest 'Snow' on Earth

There is snow at the bottom of the ocean. Submersible cameras trawling the depths capture scenes reminiscent of winter nights: endless black, punctuated with picturesque drifts of swirling white flakes. But what looks like frozen water is really anything but. Marine snowflakes are made up of tiny bits of dead animals, molted shells, and poop—all of which becomes a banquet for the multitudes of still-living creatures lucky enough to be snowed on. 

For a very long time, people assumed that nothing could survive in the deepest parts of the ocean. Without sunlight, there could be no phytoplankton, and without phytoplankton, what would form the bottom of the food chain? When naturalists began dredging the sea floor in the mid-1800s, they found that the barren landscape they envisioned was actually crawling with critters. 

Deep Seafood

The mystery of the food chain remained. What were these animals eating? The stomachs of dissected deep-sea animals contained a few smaller animals, but were mostly filled with sticky sludge. What was this sludge, and how had it reached those depths?

Answers began rolling in during the 1970s, when the first-ever deep-sea sediment trap was recovered from the bottom of the Sargasso Sea. The trap’s contents revealed specks of decaying plant and animal matter, fecal pellets, mucus, and shells. But each speck of garbage was tiny. How could they sink to such great depths? By sticking together. 

Let’s Stick Together

Each speck might start off on its own, but as it sinks through the water column, it gloms on to others like it, growing heavier and heavier, and gaining velocity as it falls. Passing fish and marine mammals eat these clumps and poop them out again, adding even more bulk and weight and hastening the smooshy snowflake’s descent. Flakes that would have taken years to sink alone—if they sank at all—can touch down in a matter of weeks. 

Marine snow is resourceful but indiscriminate, and will aggregate with anything that bumps into it. Earlier this year, scientists learned that the higher-than-average marine snowfalls in the Gulf of Mexico were likely due to the 2010 BP oil spill. With more sticky material—in this case, oil—to build around, marine snowflakes were falling even more quickly than usual. 

Manna from Heaven

Marine snow is a hugely important food source for sea floor residents. By the time it reaches the black, a snowflake is a tidy package of carbon, calcium, and other, er, recycled nutrients. Baby eels, for example, are completely dependent on marine snow during their four-month larval stage. They won’t eat anything else, which has presented quite a challenge for the scientists trying to start eel farms. 

But the mushy marine snow is more than just baby food. Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the "vampire squid from hell," may look like a killer, but it’s actually quite content to snarf snowflakes. The vampire squid has even evolved special sticky filaments, which work almost like a spider web, trapping falling particles of marine snow in what has to be the laziest hunting ever. Once its filaments are full, the squid squeezes them through its arms to collect the goodies. It envelops its catch in a juicy glob of mucus, then eats the parcel whole. 

Not every snowflake gets eaten. Those that don’t will join their predecessors, settling into the thick blanket of sludge that blankets the ocean floor.

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Why You Might Not Want to Order Tea or Coffee On Your Next Flight
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A cup of tea or coffee at 40,000 feet may sound like a great way to give yourself an extra energy boost during a tiring trip, but it might be healthier to nap away your fatigue—or at least wait until hitting ground to indulge in a caffeine fix. Because, in addition to being tepid and watery, plane brew could be teeming with germs and other harmful life forms, according to Business Insider.

Multiple studies and investigations have taken a closer look at airplane tap water, and the results aren’t pretty—or appetizing. In 2002, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that looked at water samples taken from 14 different flights from 10 different airlines. Reporters discovered “a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs," they wrote.

And they added, "Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits."

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that water supplies on 15 percent of 327 national and international commercial aircrafts were contaminated to varying degrees [PDF]. This all led up to the 2011 Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, an EPA initiative to make airlines clean up. But in 2013, an NBC investigation found that at least one out of every 10 commercial U.S. airplanes still had issues with water contamination.

Find out how airplane water gets so gross, and why turning water into coffee or tea isn’t enough to kill residual germs by watching Business Insider’s video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Why You Should Never Flush Dental Floss Down the Toilet
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Dental floss may be good for our teeth, but it’s bad for our sewer systems—which is why you should never flush the stringy product down the toilet.

Home toilets are designed with our convenience and hygiene in mind, but some people have taken to using them as de facto trash cans, flushing wet wipes, paper towels, feminine products, and other items. While gone from your bathroom in the blink of an eye, these waste products don’t just disappear into some magical abyss: They end up mucking up our pipes and pumps, causing problems at wastewater treatment plants and, in some extreme cases, merging with congealed oils, grease, fat, and waste to form noxious blobs called fatbergs.

Meanwhile, some wastewater treatment plant employees claim to have discovered everything from baseballs to cash to underwear—indicating that people are flushing far more than just household and sanitary products.

Compared to the objects above, dental floss—which is made from thin strands of nylon or Teflon—seems like it should be the least of any sewage worker’s concerns. And as you ready for bed, it’s probably far easier to toss your floss into the toilet than to remember to regularly empty the tiny trash can under your sink.

But since dental floss isn’t biodegradable, it doesn’t dissolve in its watery grave. Instead, it can combine with clumps of hair, toilet paper, wipes, sanitary products, and other gross stuff to form large clumps that clog sewers and pumps, sanitary companies told HuffPost. These blobs can also combine with tree roots and grease, cause sewage spills, and harm the motors in septic systems.

These instances aren't just inconvenient, they're also costly, as they result "in the need for local agencies that own and operate sewer systems to spend more money on maintenance to keep the sewers and pumps clear,” a spokesperson for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County told HuffPost.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t floss regularly, but from here on out, the only things you should be flushing down the toilet are human waste and toilet paper.

For a clear idea of what other kinds of things shouldn’t be going down our drains, check out the video below, which was created by the City of Spokane Department of Wastewater Management and shared in partnership with the Water Environment Federation.

[h/t The Huffington Post]

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