Have you imagined that the wind and currents are what keeps the ocean in motion?
Well think again, think smaller, much much smaller.
The mathematicians with their super computers have been at it again and new ‘ocean motion models’ of plankton power are surfacing.
Aside from outnumbering terrestrial life by a million or more to 1, the ocean ‘butterfly effect’ is shown to be the greatest power on earth.
When you look out over the vast blue ocean you are seeing only the surface. It’s like looking at the ground beneath your feet, sure there is a thin layer of life scurrying about on the surface ourselves included but dig into the soil and you will find even more life. Every plant has a root system that is at least as voluminous as what pokes its head above ground, it is an eye-opening experience to discover and see that most of ‘life on earth’ is actually ‘life below earth.’ Life ‘below earth’ even though that is where most of life is occupies but a meter or few.
But what about that vast blue 72% part of our planet? ‘Life below the surface’ of the ocean extends down hundreds, even thousands of meters.
What’s going on down there?
In a new paper published in the Journal Nature ‘Scientific Reports’ bioenergetics researchers report on their super computer model that shows how tiny plankton are in fact this blue planet’s Top Guns. They describe how small marine organisms swimming in concentrated “hotspots” use their power to churn the world’s oceans, at least the top 500 meters which is the vital ‘top-soil’ of the ocean pastures.
The oceans are a wildly varied collection of ecosystems which display variations was dramatically very different as the Sahara Desert is from Amazon Rainforest or a grassy prairie is from an alpine mountain top. But the oceans ecosystems are not static as the ocean is in motion what is here today has already been moved by winds and currents to another location by tomorrow.
One thing that is relatively consistent in the oceans are its vast ephemeral ocean pastures that have a mysterious tenacity to stay together over time spans of months or even years. We know that what starts an ocean pasture to bloom is the arrival of its most scare yet vital nutrient, iron that empowers photosynthesis.
Far out to sea that iron mostly arrives as dust on the wind and as we know the winds are here today there tomorrow so the ocean has had to evolve to take advantage of its rare and precious dustings. But when the dust does fall the ocean gets into motion and all of ocean life joins in to churn and burn to keep the ocean pasture, their blooming Garden of Eden, growing and going for as long as possible.
“We are trying to learn about the potential contribution of marine organisms to the mixing processes that transport water from this nutrient-rich bottom region through the pycnoline layer and to the nutrient-depleted (surface) region,” says Arezoo Ardekani, professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.
Ocean mixing is critical for distributing nutrients to and from the surface ocean. Vast multitudes of marine organisms move vertically between the top and bottom layers during the day and night through a process called diel vertical migration.
While it is known that wind and waves are one major cause of ocean mixing, one unknown factor has been the power of swimming organisms and their contribute to this vital mixing. Previous research has suggested the organisms transport volumes of fluid and nutrients with them, a concept known as Darwinian drift.
For the new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers used high-fidelity numerical simulation of a “simplified swimming model” to determine whether the small ocean organisms such as zooplankton swimming in concentrated hotspots contribute to the mixing.
“So there are local hotspots (aka ocean pastures) where this mixing can be comparable to the turbulent mixing in the mid-ocean,” Ardekani says. “The mixing induced by horizontally swimming organisms is one hundred times weaker than the contribution of vertically swimming organisms.”
The hotspots, aka ocean pastures, the authors state may be especially important in the vast expanse of open ocean where the majority of energy from waves and wind is dissipated prior to contributing to mixing.
The vital mixing of the oceans, keeping them in motion is but one role Mother Nature has given to Her flocks of plankton. They of course also make 4 out of every 5 breaths of oxygen that life on earth breathes and to make that oxygen they engage in photosynthesis of CO2 and are the largest by far factor in controlling planetary CO2 and hence climate effects.
But all is not well with our ocean plankton pastures as they are observed to be in cataclysmic decline and today they number only half what they did half a century ago. Everywhere on this blog you will read about how we can replenish and restore ocean pastures and restore to this Blue Planet its Garden’s of Eden. It’s a big help to see the engineers putting their super-computers to good use to lend a hand.