Sea Monkeys Stir the Ocean On Par With Tides or Wind

By Carl Engelking | September 30, 2014 10:56 am

sea monkey

A single sea monkey is an insignificant speck of dust in the vast ocean — or plastic tank. But assemble a swarm of these ocean invertebrates, and they transform into a collective force that generates ocean currents on par with tides and the wind, a new study reports.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology demonstrated that sea monkeys (whose scientific name is brine shrimp) create tiny, swirling currents as they migrate up and down the water column over the course of the day. These currents are significantly amplified when brine shrimp and other zooplankton migrate en masse. And new calculations indicate these tiny critters have an impact on the distribution of ocean nutrients on a global scale.

Sea Monkeys and Lasers

Brine shrimp prefer to hang out in the dark, so when the sun goes down they swim toward the surface, retreating again to deeper waters when the sun rises.  Knowing this, researchers used lasers to coax a herd of the small crustaceans to swim vertically in a large water tank. Blue lasers along the side of the tank tricked the shrimp into swimming upwards, while a green laser at the top kept them there.

To track the shrimp-generated currents, researchers mixed microscopic, silver-coated glass beads into the water and monitored their distribution with a high-speed camera. When the brine shrimp swam as a group, they generated powerful swirling currents that researchers calculated could impact the ocean on a larger scale. As they swam up, a group of shrimp generated a jet stream that pulled the glass beads downward, generating an eddy-like mixing zone. The team published their findings Tuesday in the journal Physics of Fluids.  


The Power of the Collective

Most of the ocean’s biomass is comprised of tiny organisms like brine shrimp. On an ecosystem scale, then, researchers believe that movements of all these tiny creatures could generate a trillion watts of power. That means migrations of tiny marine critters are stirring up the ocean on a magnitude equivalent to the effect of the wind or the tides. 

Simply by swimming, the tiniest creatures may have a massive impact on the distribution of heat, salinity and nutrients in the ocean, researchers say.

So take heart, little brine shrimp — even holed up in some kid’s plastic aquarium, you are making waves.


Top image: /Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Brine shrimp, Artemia salina, requite at least 60 parts per thousand salinity. Seawater varies from 32 – 37 ppt. One then doubts sea monkeys as such contribute to ocean mixing at any scale.

    a trillion watts of power times 3600 seconds/hour, 24 hours/day, 365.2442 days/year is annual 7.5×10^18 calories/year heating the oceans.

  • David Vanderschel

    There is something ‘fishy’ about the claims here. For the action of an object submerged in water to have an overall effect on the movement of that water (at a scale much larger than the object) would violate the law of conservation of momentum. Yes, there can be localized stirring, but no large scale movement.

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  • quadrill

    Yes , interesting but how does it relate to actual function , itdoes not , .

  • Donna Richardson

    You gentleman saw the video, yes? As the brine swam up the current flowed downward and these were just a tiny fraction of them in a tank. Multiply that by millions or tens of millions or in some cases hundreds of millions all swimming either upwards or downwards and that current also multiplies. So it goes to follow this could actually be a correct observation! Why is it man just HAS to disprove anything that doesn’t make any contribution to scientific studies. It has been frequently said it is often the smallest of organisms that make the biggest impacts.

  • Vivaldi

    I saw this first hand at the Bay of Biscay in very bad weather!

  • Richard Spirit of the Kelp

    I too have witnessed such a phenomenon at the Festival of Men in Limerick!


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