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NASA Tracks Vast Migration of Ocean Animals Using Space-Based Laser

According to NASA, researchers observed the vertical migration pattern using the satellites, which are a joint venture between NASA and the French space agency.

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Updated:December 3, 2019, 3:52 PM IST
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NASA Tracks Vast Migration of Ocean Animals Using Space-Based Laser
Image for representation -- Photo courtesy: AFP Relaxnews/ Marty Melville.

NASA has made use of a space laser in tracking the largest marine migration ever. The decade-long study was carried out using an earth-observation satellite that is jointly managed by Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO).

According to a NASA release, researchers observed the vertical migration pattern using the satellites, which are a joint venture between NASA and the French space agency. The findings were published in the journal Nature.

Speaking about the same, Chris Hostetler, a scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and co-author on the study said, "This is the latest study to demonstrate something that came as a surprise to many: that lidars have the sensitivity to provide scientifically useful ocean measurements from space," adding, "I think we are just scratching the surface of exciting new ocean science that can be accomplished with lidar.”

According to NASA, the study looks at a phenomenon that is known as Diel Vertical Migration (DVM), which sees small sea creatures swimming up from Deep Ocean at night to feed on phytoplankton near the ocean surface and then return to the depths from which they came, right before sunrise. With respect to the sheer number, scientists call this daily movement as the largest migration on Earth.

Ocean phytoplankton photosynthesize and, in the process, absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide during the day, the NASA report revealed.

Animals that undergo DVM come up to the surface to feed on phytoplankton near the ocean’s surface and then swim back down, taking the phytoplankton carbon with them.

The lead author of the study, Mike Behrenfeld revealed that the lidar from the space allowed them to sample the migrating animals on a global scale every 16 days for 10 years, before adding, "We've never had anywhere near that kind of global coverage to allow us to look at the behaviour, distribution and abundance of these animals."

Behrenfeld added, "The new satellite data give us an opportunity to combine satellite observations with the models and do a better job quantifying the impact of this enormous animal migration on Earth’s carbon cycle."

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