Blog : Learn A Little About "Sea Smoke"

By Sarah Mahoney | Feb 10, 2015 | in

There are several names for what we call "sea smoke", such as "frost smoke" and "steam fog", but regardless of the name, this is an amazing winter phenomenon. "Sea smoke" forms when a light wind of cold air (usually near or below 0 F) mixes with the shallow layer of warm air just above the warmer water. That warmer air cools so quickly that it can't hold the water vapor and releases it as condensation and as a result, produces "sea smoke". This type of condensation or steam is similar to what is produced over a hot bath or a hot coffee. Sea smoke is usually not very high above the water and may form spiralling columns.

This type of condensation only forms over saltwater because ocean water doesn't usually change to a solid until around 28.4 F. In contrast, freshwater freezes before saltwater and doesn't have the time to produce such smoke. "Sea smoke" is normally a Arctic and Antarctic phenomenon, purely because it requires such low temperatures to be produced.

White Pine Programs, located in Cape Neddick, ME recently featured a write up about "sea smoke" in their Feburary News Letter. White Pine Programs is a nonprofit educational organization working to provide children, adults, and local businesses with nature based learning opportunities and programs to enlighten them with the facts of wildlife and help them become aware of the nature around them. They serve as a Regional Center for Naturalist and Wildlife Tracking Expertise, as well as the Agamenticus Conservation Region as an Educational and Wildlife Monitoring Resourse. 

To learn more about White Pine Programs, visit their site here.