How hurricanes affect the deep ocean

Hurricanes are one of the most powerful weather phenomena on the planet. Even in the middle of the ocean, they wreak havoc, churning out 60-foot waves and powerful winds.

We know the surface of the ocean sees a lot of action, but what happens in the deep ocean?

What You Need To Know

  • Hurricanes only reach a depth of about 300 feet
  • They help with a process know as upwelling
  • Upwelling can help sea creatures near the surface and farther below

At the surface

Some sea creatures can sense when a hurricane is approaching and swim to deeper waters or new areas to escape the danger.

But for those living in not-so-deep waters, the outcome can turn devastating. Hurricanes can damage coral reefs, killing many of the fish and organisms that inhabit them.

They can even smother animals fixed to the ocean floor with sand, and free-swimming fish can get caught up in the strong currents or tossed into rocks or other structures.

The newly kicked-up sand can also clog gills in fish and prevent sunlight from penetrating the water where some habitats need it.

However, with all the bad, there is some good.

The sand pushed and moved by hurricanes can also create new things along their path, including new islands. This happened with Hurricane Sally in 2020.

And there are other benefits!

Below the surface

Hurricanes can only reach a depth of about 300 feet in the ocean, so below that, the waters are pretty quiet, which is nice for our deep-sea dwellers.

There is also an upside for our water friends near the surface.

Passing hurricanes help with a process known as upwelling. This is when cooler, nutrient-rich water from the deep sea mixes with the warmer water at the surface.

This helps phytoplankton, the primary food producers in the ocean, bloom and provide food for other organisms in the ocean.

Common types of phytoplankton. (NASA/Sally Bensusen)

Any excess organic matter produced by phytoplankton can also sink to the deeper waters of the ocean and become food for the deep-sea creatures.

So, even though hurricanes look scary over an ocean, they can do a lot of good for our ecosystems.

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