Field of Science

Into the Depths of Crater Lake

I searched the National Parks websites for moss just to see how many of the other parks mention them. I was pleasantly surprised that quite a few of them talk about moss and other bryophytes that can be found in the parks. One of the interesting articles that I found was a report on the deep water plants that live in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. They used a one-person submarine to explore the rock walls the lake for plant life. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at a depth of 1,943 feet (592 meters). And what do you think they found living 759 feet (253 meters) below the water's surface?

Well a moss of course! This finding extended the known depth to which mosses can grow by 100 meters and it is most likely the world record depth for a moss. The moss that they found was in the genus Drepanocladis (Drepanocladus - possible spelling error on their part?). This is a bit of old news, seeing as how this discovery was made in 1988. I am not sure if any mosses have been more recently found to grow deeper than this. If I find out that they have I will be sure to let you know.

I think that it is pretty cool that a moss can live and grow that far under water. However how in the world does it get enough light to photosynthesize? Water depths in the open-ocean are divided up into different zones depending on the amount of light that can penetrate the water. Photosynthesis occurs in the euphotic zone which is 0 to 660 feet (200 meters) in depth. The thing is these are numbers that apply to the open-ocean. Lakes are a different story and depending on the turbidity (haziness) of the water light might not be able to penetrate nearly as deep. So how in the world does this moss stay alive that far below the water's surface? At this point I am not sure, but if you have a hypothesis feel free to put it up in the comments section. I will keep thinking about this and if I have any ideas I will be sure to let you know.

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