NASA Uses Space Laser To Study Plankton In Polar Regions

Posted: Dec 21 2016, 12:49pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 21 2016, 1:00pm CST , in Latest Science News


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NASA Uses Space Laser to Study Planktons in Polar Regions
Credits: NASA/Timothy Marvel

Space laser shed more light on polar food webs

For the first time, NASA has used a space-based sensor to look into plankton populations living in the icy waters of north pole and provided more insight into the organisms that are the base of the marine food web.

From whales to snails and jellyfish, phytoplankton are primary food source for many sea creatures. They also play a major role in maintaining Earth’s environment. Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the air. So, changes in plankton communities could have enormous consequences for life on our planet.

“It’s really important for us to understand what controls these boom and bust cycles and how they might change in the future so we can better evaluate the implications on all other parts of the food web.” Michael Behrenfeld, a marine plankton expert at Oregon State University said.

It has been assumed that plankton bloom begins when their growth rates exceeds a threshold and ends when the growth rates falls below the specific threshold.

But contrary to the popular belief, accelerations in growth rate allow plankton to outgrow the animals that prey on them. When this happens, the phytoplankton populations rapidly increase. The bloom ends when acceleration in growth stops and the predatory animals eat up the ocean plants.

Dubbed Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization, or CALIOP, the space LIDAR instrument enabled researchers to investigate these boom and bust cycles of plankton and provided them with the data that could prove useful for ecosystem management. The instrument shoots laser beams at the target and can peer through fog, clouds and darkness.

The instrument is mounted on CALIPSO satellite that was launched in 2006. This means that the instrument has been monitoring the plankton communities in polar ocean for nearly a decade, from 2006 to 2015.

“CALIOP was a game-changer in our thinking about ocean remote sensing from space,” said Chris Hostetler, a researcher involved in the study. “We were able to study the workings of the high-latitude ocean ecosystem during times of year when we were previously completely blind.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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