We have gotten so much snow in February that it’s hard to imagine any animals are up and moving about. But underneath all that snow, many animals have stayed cozy and warm despite the cold temperatures.
How? The fluffy snow acts as a blanket, keeping the ground warmer than the air. This creates a space called the subnivean zone, which is what we’re exploring today.
The subnivean zone is the snow-free area that forms above the soil but below the snow in the winter. It can form in one of two ways. Sometimes it forms when branches or bushes hold the snow up above the soil. The other way it forms is when the snow is heated by the soil below. This turns the lowest layer of snow of snow into water vapor, which travels up through the snowpack, often forming beautiful ice crystals on the surface of the snow and around entrances to the subnivean zone on cold days.
Either of these methods creates a space large enough for small animals to scurry around. As long as there is at least 10 inches of snow, this space stays around 32 degrees Fahrenheit no matter the air temperature above.
Mice and voles are the most common inhabitants of the subnivean zone, but many animals use this space.
Read the entire article in the Wenatchee World.