NASA's technologies are commonly used in space explorations however, it can also be used in climate and environment research. The NASA space laser was used to take measurements of planktons and study the boom-and-bust cycle of ocean plants in the North Pole, which is important in explaining the interactions between climate and key ocean ecosystems.
Launched in 2006, NASA's Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP), is an instrument aboard a NASA CALIPSO satellite which can provide high-resolution vertical profiles of clouds and aerosols. From 2006 to 2015 the device has been used to closely monitor planktons in polar regions.
Studying the ocean plants is important in evaluating future food webs. The findings can also be used in commercial fisheries, ecosystem management and understanding how the ocean ecosystems are affected by the Earth's climate. Phytoplankton also affects the Earth's carbon cycle.
In a press release provided by NASA, it was explained how CALIOP was helpful in the study. Typically, other satellites can only view ocean plants when there is enough sunlight, making it difficult for areas with high-latitude because of limited sunlight and clouds which obscure the view. The NASA space laser can illuminate the ocean plants even during the night or through the clouds.
According to the study, phytoplankton outgrows the animals that prey on them which causes a bloom. But, after growth acceleration stops, the predators eat the ocean plants and the bloom ends. This new finding defy the traditional theories in phytoplankton. The decade-worth of data from NASA technology also explained the push and pull between predator and prey in the Arctic regions.
"The take home message is that if we want to understand the biological food web and production of the polar systems as a whole, we have to focus both on changes in ice cover and changes in the ecosystems that regulate this delicate balance between predators and prey," Michael Behrenfeld from Oregon State University said cited Endgadget. A new NASA space laser technology is being tested to study phytoplankton concentrations in sunlit layers of the ocean and photosynthesis.