The study showed that Arctic and Atlantic oceans have the previously hidden patches of water with the assistance of the marine robots. The discovery of the oceanographers from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) could change the traditional understanding of how the ocean’s food chain forms.
Using the autonomous marine robot glider ‘Zephyr’ helped the oceanographers to prove their theories on ‘hidden’ patches of water that could change our knowledge of how food webs form in the ocean, Digit.FYI reported.
According to Dr Marie Porter, a SAMS oceanographer and lead author on a report about the discovery, published in Geophysical Research Letters, findings had implications for understanding the distribution of nutrients that fuel the entire Arctic ecosystem, including Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
In fact, the patches were formed in the northern part of the Barents Sea, as cooler and fresher water from the Arctic moves south and becomes trapped within the warmer and saltier water from the Atlantic.
Well-known as ‘eddies’ – circular movements of water that have broken off from an ocean current – they measure around 30 km across.
Despite their size, the eddies are invisible to satellites and had gone unnoticed until oceanographers from the SAMS, in Oban, picked up unusual readings during a trial mission of an underwater glider.
The marine robot glider ‘Zephyr’ collected the unique data from the deep ocean
The autonomous glider moves across the ocean to depths of 200 metres collecting data, including heat and salinity, every kilometre. This allowed the SAMS team to measure one of these eddies in detail.
While this eddy’s surface temperature was like the surrounding water, masking it from satellites, its lower salt content made it stand out in the glider readings.
As Dr Marie Porter explained, her researcher team get a pretty good idea about what’s happening on the very surface of our ocean through satellites, but eddies like this one have been hidden from view because they have warmed at the surface since leaving the Arctic.
“This temperature masking means we have previously underestimated how much water moves within these patches in the Arctic Seas. It begs the question: how many more of these hidden eddies are occurring in the ocean today?” she asked, indeed.
Professor of oceanography, Finlo Cottier, supports his colleague, saying that SAMS has been working with ocean gliders for over a decade. That allowed the scientists to know that the marine robots the ideal tool for measuring the detailed properties of the ocean.
“This work gives us precise measurements of important structures in the Arctic that we couldn’t previously obtain,” prof Cottier said.
The discovery was made during a two-week trial of the glider ‘Zephyr’ in July 2017, ahead of a longer mission as part of the Arctic PRIZE project. The project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council’s Changing Arctic Ocean Programme.