Picture of red tide taken from the NOAA Research Vessel Ron Brown
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NOAA
Robots Watch out for Poisonous Plankton!
News story originally written on January 30, 2003
Tiny plankton that live in the sea may look harmless but certain types are able to kill fish, poison seafood and even choke swimmers. Now robots have been developed to search the seas for the dangerous plankton!
Plankton spend most of their life floating in ocean water. They cannot swim like fish, but instead float wherever the currents take them. The harmful types of plankton are single-celled, microscopic creatures called algae that photosynthesize like plants.
Most types of algae are very important for life in the sea because they are food for animals like clams, fish and whales. However, a few types of algae have poisons within them that are harmful to other creatures. When the dangerous types of algae grow so fast that they darken the ocean water with a reddish cloud called a red tide, they are dangerous to animals that eat them. When people eat seafood that ate the poisonous algae, they get sick too.
Special underwater robots have been released into the Gulf of Mexico to look for dangerous algae. The robots are called autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs. They look like small airplanes that glide underwater. They carry sensors to detect algae and record salinity and temperature of the water so that scientists can study when the red tides form.
Researchers hope that with the information from their robots and satellite images, they will be able to warn people living near the coast if a giant cloud of algae is in the ocean near them.
Last modified January 31, 2003 by Lisa Gardiner.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
About 70% of the Earth is covered with water. Over 97% of that water is found in the oceans. Everyone who has taken in a mouthful of ocean water while swimming knows that the ocean is really salty! Dissolved...more
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit. This was the United States' 123rd...more
A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more
Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials want an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting to be...more
A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun early last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. The SWICS instrument on ACE has produced a new and very...more
J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service called forests the "heart and lungs of the world." This is because forests filter air and water pollution, absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and maintain...more