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Published October 2014 | Published
Journal Article Open

Observations of large-scale fluid transport by laser-guided plankton aggregations


Diel vertical migration of plankton has been proposed to affect global ocean circulation to a degree comparable to winds and tides. This biomixing process has never been directly observed, however, due to the inability to predict its occurrence in situ or to reproduce it in a laboratory setting. Furthermore, it has been argued that the energy imparted to the ocean by plankton migrations occurs at the scale of individual organisms, which is too small to impact ocean mixing. We describe the development of a multi-laser guidance system that leverages the phototactic abilities of plankton to achieve controllable vertical migrations concurrently with laser velocimetry of the surrounding flow. Measurements in unstratified fluid show that the hydrodynamic interactions between neighboring swimmers establish an alternate energy transfer route from the small scales of individually migrating plankton to significantly larger scales. Observations of laser-induced vertical migrations of Artemia salina reveal the appearance of a downward jet, which triggers a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability that results in the generation of eddy-like structures with characteristic length scales much larger than the organisms. The measured energy spectrum is consistent with these findings and indicates energy input at large scales, despite the small individual size of the organisms. These results motivate the study of biomixing in the presence of stratification to assess the contribution of migrating zooplankton to local and global ocean dynamics. The laser control methodology developed here enables systematic study of the relevant processes.

Additional Information

© 2014 AIP Publishing LLC. This paper was presented as an invited talk at the 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics, 24–26 November 2013, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation.

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