Boston’s having a rough go with snow. In the past 30 days, six feet of flakes have buried Beantown. There’s so much snow on the ground, in fact, that the city and surrounding regions are considering dumping it into the ocean to make room on the roads.
What would that mean for the Boston Harbor? Bob Chant, a professor of physical oceanography and estuarine dynamics at Rutgers University, says it boils down to a question of ecological impact vs. public safety. “If people are worried about debris from the streets getting into the harbor, they should worry about it the rest of the year too–not just this day,” Chant says.
Yes, snow gets dirty when it sits around. But all of that slush will reach the ocean by the spring. Besides, Chant says, road snow makes up very little of the area’s total snowfall. “They’re not clearing Fenway Park or Boston Commons … [the roads are] just a small part.”
Could adding all that snow from the roads at once add a lot of salt? By Chant’s calculation, the Boston Harbor contains about 10 million tons of salt. As of February 10, the city had dumped about 60,000 tons of the stuff onto roads, or less than 1 percent of what’s in the water. So even if all the snow from the streets entered the water at once, it still wouldn’t significantly impact the harbor’s salinity.
Likewise, Chant says diluting the Boston Harbor’s salinity also isn’t a practical concern. The water has already swallowed vastly more snow than all the streets of Boston, he points out, and swings in ocean salinity are typical for the area.
Massachusetts doesn’t permit dumping snow into the water, but can make exceptions during extreme circumstances like this one. Concerns of pollution aside: Here at Popular Science, we say go for it.