A new study published Tuesday, September 30th in the journal Physics of Fluids suggests that tiny sea creatures such as sea monkeys and other zooplankton may have a significant impact on ocean currents. The researchers, Caltech engineering faculty member John Dabiri and grad student Monica Wilhelmus, based their experiment on the fact that sea monkeys, billions of which live in the ocean, are light phobic (ie, they move away from light).
Details on the ocean currents experiment
The fact that sea monkeys (brine shrimp) move in response to light (predator avoidance response) allowed Dabiri and Wilhelmus to make them “migrate” using a laser in a tank in their fluids lab.
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The researchers used lasers to move the tiny crustaceans across a large water tank. They also enabled a visual trail of the current created by the sea monkeys by mixing shiny silver microscopic glass spheres into the water. They then used a high-speed camera to track the movement of these particles, shown in yellow in the image above.
“The expectation of any card-carrying oceanographer would be that the effect would be negligible, given how tiny these organisms are,” Dabiri explained. “But even though we’re talking about organisms just a few millimeters in size, they’re creating this collective effect.”
More research needed to know impact on real ocean currents
This research was just a lab study, and other scientists noted that more evidence that schools of sea monkeys have a measurable effect on currents in the ocean are needed. “We picked this brine shrimp because its swimming stroke is very similar to other organisms, particularly those that live in areas very important to climate change,” Dabiri elaborated. Other zooplankton such as krill and copepods, he noted, move in the same way — and many billions of these creatures are found in all oceans.
“It’s important that these results be replicated in field studies out in the ocean,” he continued, “but if they are, it would suggest that we’ve been missing a variable in modeling with ocean currents.”
Moreover, if microscopic organisms like sea monkeys and krill can cause the movement of currents carrying nutrients and heat throughout the oceans, then it is only logical to assume larger schools of larger fish and ocean mammals have even more significant effects.