Sea monkeys may not seem as significant as bigger animals in the oceans such as the whales and sharks because of their tiny size but researchers from the California Institute of Technology suggest that a swarm of these swimming invertebrates can produce a collective force that can influence ocean currents comparable with that produced by tides and winds.

Findings of a new research provide proof that brine shrimps, as these organisms are also called, can have a profound impact on the motion of the ocean. For the study presented in the 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in November last year and published in the journal Physics of Fluids on Tuesday, Sept. 30, Monica Wilhelmus and John Dabiri, both from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California examined sea monkeys in an aquarium specially equipped with lasers, which were used to herd the organisms and trigger their collective migration across the tank.

The researchers also seeded the water with microscopic, silver-coated glass beads and used a high-speed camera to see and record the fluid flow that were produced by the swarm of these creatures as they followed the light from the laser up and down the aquarium.

Wilhelmus and Dabiri found that although a single sea monkey's movement does not have much effect on the dynamics of the water, their collective migration produces large swirls, which indicate a significant effect when translated in the ocean's setting. The researchers said that when these tiny animals swim side by side, the eddies they produce interact with larger currents that can potentially impact the ocean's circulation.

"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 researchers wrote. "The measured energy spectrum is consistent with these findings and indicates energy input at large scales, despite the small individual size of the organisms."

Dabiri said that the collective movement of tiny creatures in the ocean such as the sea monkeys could be contributing about 1 trillion watts of power to the ocean, which is comparable to the estimated 2 trillion watts from the combined effects of tides and winds.

"This research suggests a remarkable and previously unobserved two-way coupling between the biology and the physics of the ocean," Dabiri said. "The organisms in the ocean appear to have the capacity to influence their environment by their collective swimming."

Watch the video of the experiment here:

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