NASA, French Space Laser Measures Massive Migration of Ocean Animals

From NASA Global Climate Change

Nature Geoscience Cover

Researchers used the space-based CALIPSO lidar to measure the planet’s largest animal migration, which takes place when small sea creatures swim up from the depths at night to feed on phytoplankton, then back down again just before sunrise. Credit: NASA/Timothy Marvel

Every night, under the cover of darkness, countless small sea creatures – from squid to krill – swim from the ocean depths to near the surface to feed. This vast animal migration – the largest on the planet and a critical part of Earth’s climate system – has been observed globally for the first time, thanks to an unexpected use of a space-based laser.

Researchers observed this vertical migration pattern using the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite — a joint venture between NASA and the French space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales — that launched in 2006. They published their findings in the journal Nature Wednesday.

squid

Tiny creatures such as small squid, fish and krill are part of the massive vertical migration pattern in the ocean that has now been measured around the world from space. Credit: Chandler Countryman

“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,” said Chris Hostetler, a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and co-author on the study. “I think we are just scratching the surface of exciting new ocean science that can be accomplished with lidar.”

The study looks at a phenomenon known as Diel Vertical Migration (DVM), in which small sea creatures swim up from the deep ocean at night to feed on phytoplankton near the surface, then return to the depths just before sunrise. Scientists recognize this natural daily movement around the world as the largest migration of animals on Earth in terms of total number.

The cumulative effect of daily vertically migrating creatures on Earth’s climate is significant. During the day, ocean phytoplankton photosynthesize and, in the process, absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide, which contributes to the ocean’s ability to absorb the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. 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. Much of this carbon is then defecated at depths where it is effectively trapped deep in the ocean, preventing its release back into the atmosphere.

“What the lidar from space allowed us to do is sample these migrating animals on a global scale every 16 days for 10 years,” said Mike Behrenfeld, the lead for the study and a senior research scientist and professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. “We’ve never had anywhere near that kind of global coverage to allow us to look at the behavior, distribution and abundance of these animals.”

Zeroing in on tropical and subtropical ocean regions, researchers found that while there are fewer vertically migrating animals in lower-nutrient and clearer waters, they comprise a greater fraction of the total animal population in these regions. This is because the migration is a behavior that has evolved primarily to avoid visual predators during the day when visual predators have their greatest advantage in clear ocean regions.

In murkier and more nutrient-rich regions, the abundance of animals that undergo DMV is higher, but they represent a smaller fraction of the total animal population because visual predators are at a disadvantage. In these regions, many animals just stay near the surface both day and night.

The researchers also observed long-term changes in populations of migrating animals, likely driven by climate variations. During the study period (2008 to 2017), CALIPSO data revealed an increase in migrating animal biomass in the subtropical waters of the North and South Pacific, North Atlantic and South Indian oceans. In the tropical regions and North Atlantic, biomass decreased. In all but the tropical Atlantic regions, these changes correlated with changes in phytoplankton production.

This animal-mediated carbon conveyor belt is recognized as an important mechanism in Earth’s carbon cycle. Scientists are adding animals that undergo DVM as a key element in climate models.

“What these modelers haven’t had is a global dataset to calibrate these models with, to tell them where these migrators are most important, where they’re most abundant, and how they change over time,” said Behrenfeld. “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.”

The satellite data are also relevant to global fisheries because the migrating animals are an important food source for larger predators that lurk in the depths of the ocean. Those predators are often species of fish that are attractive to commercial fisheries. The larger the DVM signal, the larger the population of fish that can live in the deep sea.

Though CALIPSO’s laser was designed to measure clouds and atmospheric aerosols, it can penetrate the upper 20 meters of the ocean’s surface layer. If the migrating animals reach this layer, they are detected by CALIPSO.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. The agency’s observations of Earth’s complex natural environment are critical to understanding how our planet’s natural resources and climate are changing now and could change in the future.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/earth

42 thoughts on “NASA, French Space Laser Measures Massive Migration of Ocean Animals

  1. This looks like a very fine opportunity for real and interesting science, corrupted by the apparent need to frame everything in terms of climate change.
    A couple of points:
    – why didn’t they discuss zooplankton per se? All over the world, including in fresh water lakes, there are examples of zooplankton migrating up and down with light levels and the smaller predators follow it and so on;
    – why draw conclusions about climate change based on data that apparently only goes back to 2008?
    3) assuming that the phytoplankton population change statistics are widespread and valid, how do they know climate change is to blame? No other factors to consider?

    • Oil pollution reducing nutrient stirring, Dissolved silica increasing diatom blooms, reducing calcareous phytoplankton numbers and hence carbonate pull down. And so on.

      JF

      • Do you know what happens with the defacations? Does it really only collect at the bottom? Does it have any useful properties? Is it too deep to harvest?

    • “why draw conclusions about climate change based on data that apparently only goes back to 2008?

      They are not “drawing conclusions”

      the carbon cycle is one aspect of climate models that is being improved.
      Simple version: we know how much we emit ( source) we know how much is left in the air (net)
      and thus we know how much must be in the “sinks” -ocean, trees, etc. source-sink = net

      But WHERE exactly does it go? suppose 80% of the sinks are the ocean? do you ‘spread’ the c02 evenly
      over every part of the ocean? or do certain regions take up More?

      ” Scientists are adding animals that undergo DVM as a key element in climate models.”

      “What these modelers haven’t had is a global dataset to calibrate these models with, to tell them where these migrators are most important, where they’re most abundant, and how they change over time,”

      So the data is not used for a CONCLUSION, it used to calibrate.

      you guys do need to take a chill pill every time you see the word “model”

      • “…every time you see the word “model”
        Strawman much? The issue isn’t the word “model”, and you know it, Mr. Disingenuous.
        Perhaps you need to take a logic pill.

      • Steven Mosher – “the carbon cycle ” –

        It comes as a bit of a surprise that you are aware of the carbon cycle.

        All Carbon Based Life Forms (all life that we know of) participate in the Carbon Cycle. Carbon Dioxide is integral and necessary to the Carbon Cycle, the Carbon Cycle cannot complete without CO2.

        From the article: “to feed on phytoplankton” … and what do phytoplankton feed on? Answer of course is CO2. CO2 is the base of the food chain. Life depends on the extraction of Carbon from atmospheric CO2 by photosynthesis of plants and marine phytoplankton.

        There is no life without atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, and you think we should make efforts to restrict it?

      • Steve,
        “Simple version: we know how much we emit ( source) we know how much is left in the air (net)
        and thus we know how much must be in the “sinks” -ocean, trees, etc. source-sink = net”

        We have no idea how much CO2 Earth emits from its many sources to include these.
        Long Invisible, Research Shows Volcanic CO2 Levels Are Staggering
        bit.ly/2B6Bs1I
        Termite farts = 12,600,000,000 metric tons of CO₂
        Termites also emit 50,000,000,000 metric tons of CO₂
        Zimmerman et al 1984

        Human emissions are 24,000,000,000 metric tons

        Termites are responsible for 260% more global warming than humans!

        Best case scenario, termites emit 200% more than humans.

        Worst case scenario, it’s almost 900% more
        http://bit.ly/2KKV7YY

        Therefore, we have no way of knowing “how much must be in the “sinks” -ocean, trees, etc. source-sink = net.”
        We only fairly recently discovered the above two emitters. How many more are there about which we have no clue? How many more CO2 sequesterers are there? We don’t know.
        Oh, and CO2 is not “spread evenly” around the globe. We do now know that which puts the Warmist theorists in a deep hole in blaming CO2 for all evil on Earth.
        Carbon Dioxide Not a Well Mixed Gas and Can’t Cause Global Warming

        http://bit.ly/2kiynGC

      • “we know how much we emit ( source) ”

        Really!? hows that even possible when CO2 emitters are so different. It is everything based on assumptions.

      • ” Scientists are adding animals that undergo DVM as a key element in climate models.”
        ———–

        You kid yourself only Mosh, this adds nothing to the fact Improved™ climate-models are untestable, in the real-world, where actually climate trends are visible in multi-century scale trends only, and will remain so at least for as long as it takes for a time-machine to be demonstrated which can verify the climate model’s output – let alone that there was any Improvement™ stemming from the accounting for the habits of squids.

        But if such a time-machine did suddenly plop into out lap, such non-testable climate-models would immediately become redundant, anyway.

        And we’d never really learn if lasering cephalopods made them work better.

    • “Holy peregrination Batman!”
      By their definition most humans ‘migrate’ daily, and almost always at about the same hours each day!

      I must quibble with the choice of description for what I would call a daily commute from living zones to feeding zones, as it hardly qualifies as “migration”.
      I suspect the choice is meant to construe the more common understanding of swarms of critters moving across the seas to find better living conditions or for seasonal mating or birthing, such as whales and sharks. This is certainly not that case.

        • “from living zones to feeding zones”

          But the text says ” from the ocean depths”

          This leaves me unsure whether we are referring to 150 m., 300 m., 1,000 m., or much more.
          The critters are small, correct?
          How fast can they move up and down?

  2. Prediction: some enterprising researcher will submit a request for funding in-depth studies regarding how human-generated GHGs are affecting (dangerously & irreversibly) said nocturnal ‘migration’…

  3. Long ago during 1986 I was onborad FORV Sagar Sampada on a cruise over Andaman Sea and,I was fascinated by echosounder data charts,displaying the diurnal movement of phytoplankton layer. Such ship based data would serve as reliable sea-truth for CALIPSO laser meaurements. My focus was study of internal waves and here too I am planning to make use of Calipso data that would be able to provide first ever ‘amplitude’ measurement of IW amplitudes from space. Looking for a scientific collaboraor.
    Dr. Satyendra Bhandari Space.scientist@gmail.com

  4. It is always good to have a new way to measure, also in this case to call attention to something known and studied for a long time. It seems now to have less attention but diel (day-night) studies, while occasionally rediscovered, are overcome by lack of interest in the night. Lots of ocean chemistry changes. Inshore, a very large percentage sample only during the day, sometimes best as you can tell, because time is not stated. That is better than a computer model, but misses a lot.

    I recall a paper on ocean migrations caused by an eclipse.

  5. They forgot to mention “We have NEVER measured so few ocean animals in history. It’s unprecedented and is a clear example that the climate emergency is happening NOW!!!”, although wait until the MSM spin this.

    Future climate grant fail.

  6. What people need to realize is that the carbon cycle of Earth is not stable and it always tends toward less carbon, as it is trapped and removed from circulation, mostly as calcium carbonate.

    Starting at <25,000 ppm in the atmosphere about 550 million years ago, when larger organisms started to leave fossils, CO2 plummeted for 230 million years, reaching a low at 320 million years ago. During this period things like the massive cliffs of Dover were laid down.

    CO2 was almost as low as today for 50 million years, long enough for a second version of photosynthesis to evolve that actively takes up CO2 from a CO2 thin atmosphere. C4 photosynthesis evolved for survival at low CO2 concentrations and CAM photosynthesis for very low CO2. Clearly, Earth was in a stressed state for there to be evolution related to low CO2, which is where we are today.

    Then, 250 million years ago, when the continents began to break apart, there was massive vulcanism that spewed huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, pushing CO2 up to about 1000 ppm, after which it then started to decline again. A second round of vulcanism 180 million years ago pushed CO2 back to only 1000 ppm and it has been decreasing ever since, reaching as low as 280 in recent times. Below 200 ppm plants stop growing and at 150 they die.

    We are in a CO2 desert on a planet that tends to sequester CO2. Without sufficient CO2, life on Earth as we know it will die. The above mention of carbon being moved to the ocean depths as it its a good thing is exactly wrong. We need to find ways to add more CO2 to the atmosphere. Maybe we should cine and cook the Cliffs of Dover?

    • Well, uplift and weathering then redress the balance.

      there is no prospect at all of CO2 falling to levels which would endanger life (even without human activity)

      • Wrong again!

        If the trend continues during the next glaciation, CO2 could well fall below 150 ppm, which would severely stress C3 plants, to include all trees and most crops.

    • Monsieur Higley: The white cliffs of Dover are Cretaceous in age (140 to 65 Ma). Accuracy is important, even in a friendly diatribe.

      NB – I know it’s a light hearted remark but cooking limestone to liberate CO2 is just a way to squander fossil fuels for no real gain. You will produce CO2 and lime, and the lime will immediately start to re-absorb atmospheric CO2 and convert itself back to CaCO3, unless you store it in hermetically sealed compartments (which is going to be a bit tricky if you plan to do it on an industrial scale over geologically significant time periods). All you will get is the CO2 from the fossil fuel you used, which you could have retained for more useful purposes, like driving your car, cooking your dinner or heating your home.

    • As noted, White Cliffs are Cretaceous, a name derived from the eponymous European chalks.

      Also, the continents didn’t split up 250 Ma, ie at the Permian-Triassic and Paleozoic-Mesozoic boundary, but after 200 Ma, at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary.

    • PS: C4 plants did not evolve in the Paleozoic or Mesozoic, when CO2 was too high for the alternate pathway to offer an advantage. CO2 did get down to around 300 ppm during the Carboniferous-Permian glaciation, but angiosperms hadn’t spread yet.

      C4 and CAM photosynthetic pathways developed in the Oligocene and Miocene of our present Cenozoic Era, when CO2 started falling.

  7. A very clever use of satellites.
    CALIPSO is in a sun synchronous orbit, returning to the same spot on the earth’s surface once every 16 days. I wonder how they obtain day/night values when the sat covers the same spot at the same time of day?

    On a more clear note, we now know how the oceans transported all of the missing heat to the deep ocean, the critters carried it down there every day.

  8. So that’s why the world environment was running so low on that vital nutrient, CO2, to the point plant life was suffering. Lucky we had an industrial revolution to pump enough back into the environment to save life on earth.

  9. Am I the only one who had the funny thought of these nocturnal animals with super sensitive vision coming to the surface before being blinded by this bright light hitting them from above. Then the follow up study of how climate change heat in the deep ocean was causing blindness in said creatures.

  10. Perhaps I missed it, but does this technology provide any information regarding vertical distance of the migration? Or does this technique just measure the presence or absence of the migrating creatures in a thin layer at the surface?

    • According to the article, the critters are detected at above 20 meter under the surface. No idea how deep they go.

      On another note, some are using strong light to fish at night, so a bit the opposite of the critters.

    • Great point. Daily feeding patterns are not migration. Most animals move from safe sleeping locations to where they eat or drink. This is normal and not migration. Incorrect use of the term in this article is used to falsely increase the apparent significance of the topic.

  11. “The cumulative effect of daily vertically migrating creatures on Earth’s climate is significant.”
    Oh really? Do tell!
    “ClimateScience”: A word describing the remarkable ability to make wild, completely unsupported claims, to be taken on faith.
    Climate Science; “We’re scientists. Would we lie to you?”

  12. It appears that CALIPSO can only detect the presence or absence of the Deep Scattering Layer’s migration:
    “Though CALIPSO’s laser was designed to measure clouds and atmospheric aerosols, it can penetrate the upper 20 meters of the ocean’s surface layer. If the migrating animals reach this layer, they are detected by CALIPSO.”
    It can’t “track” the layer from depth, ~1k’, to the surface, it can only tell whether it’s there or not. There are 24 hour records of this up and down behavior that go back to WWII when sonar was fist used for bathymetric measurements and to hunt submarines. There is a lot of “ground truth” data that can be looked at to calibrate the CALIPSO data. That same data can be used to extend the time horizon of this study.

  13. “sonar was fist used for”

    first, not fist….

    It’s actually a fascinating thing to watch, the almost solid looking layer just starts to come up after sunset and then heads back down near dawn. Sometimes it was so dense we couldn’t “see” the real bottom through it.

  14. Really ?….couldn’t find MH370….can’t find a submarine….can’t find a whale….maybe good enough to find a phytoplankton bloom….but definitely good enough to seek and find some research funding…../sarc, yeah I know there are satellites that can find subs….

    • Farmers sometimes spot submarines, LIDAR not needed. Remember “Whisky On The Rocks” when a Russian Whisky class submarine stranded on the rocks in a Swedish fjord. Not sure the Swedish military thought it was all that funny though.

  15. I love all the new discoveries and better measurements of the “settled science” of the carbon cycle.

  16. “The researchers also observed long-term changes in populations of migrating animals, likely driven by climate variations. During the study period (2008 to 2017), CALIPSO data revealed an increase in migrating animal biomass in the subtropical waters of the North and South Pacific, North Atlantic and South Indian oceans. In the tropical regions and North Atlantic, biomass decreased. In all but the tropical Atlantic regions, these changes correlated with changes in phytoplankton production.” So you measure data for nine years and think you understand all the drivers of this phenomenon? At least your very short data period shows that recently, predator populations correlate with their food source, which most people would expect. So what controls the phytoplankton? In the northeastern Pacific, the amount of iron available is a key influence. This is usually introduced from volcanic ash.

  17. This is great science. Powerful new technology employed to observe the magnificent daily vertical migration of zooplankton and the “deep scattering layer” community of animals. This should be an exciting development for marine biology.

    Sadly however, it will be taken over by the death cult. The current political regime of catastrophist necrophilia, death is the only phenomenon a scientist is allowed to observe. It is forbidden to observe life without saying that it’s being destroyed by humans and changing climate. Most of the time this is false, it is a mental disease manifesting as a compulsive obsessive necrophilia. Looking at life they see only death.

    The German philosopher Nietzsche accidentally became the father of 20th century fascism. His “death of God” became inverted into the “God of death”. Worship of death characterised the Na3is in Germany and also the Nipponese Emperor worship and military fanaticism. The same death cult is now back as climate activism. In fact all political activism has a strong flavour of Nietzsche about it.

    Nietzsche presents an iconoclastic philosophy which goes beyond the traditional boundaries of western thought, particularly the boundaries of western thought as they have been shaped by the Christian religion. The son of a Lutheran clergyman his philosophy has the air of an individual who wishes to get away as far as possible from his own roots. Nietzsche’s philosophy will forever be associated with the undermining of religious belief and the notion of the ‘death of god’. In place of God Nietzsche puts the active human will which has, in his view, the capacity in the very few to shape a world of its own. Because of its identification with the decline of religious belief and any absolute presuppositions, Nietzsche’s philosophy is often identified as an important starting point for postmodernism. Nietzsche’s view of experience is radically centred upon the human individual. As Warren puts it, ‘he reconceives central ideals of modern rationalism, especially the ideal of humans as agents with capacities for freedom, sovereignty, reciprocity and responsibility’.1 With Nietzsche freedom, sovereignty, reciprocity and responsibility are not grounded in any metaphysical belief or in a conception of an interpersonal reason. They derive solely from the life of self-conscious, active individuals.

    Thanks buddy. A post-modern Nietzsche-world rejects absolute morality and right and wrong. In it’s place is an anarchic marketplace of activists and the triumph of the loudest mouth. For some reason, absent a respect for the infinite and divine, this jungle of loud-mouths always leads to a Nietzsche-like fixation on death. The climate religion is perhaps the most perfect death cult yet – a monstrous edifice of necrophilia that the 21st century can be proud of.

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