Transparent jellyfish-like creatures called salps, which are about the size of a human thumb, are swarming by the billions into “hot spots” in the oceans?places where hurricanes are likely to develop. Scientists are hoping that they are transporting tons of carbon per day from the ocean surface to the deep sea, where it will not re-enter the atmosphere .
Salps move through the water by drawing water in the front end and propelling it out the rear in a sort of jet propulsion. In doing so, they vacuum up all the edible material in the water. Some of this material consists of tiny marine plants called phytoplankton, which use carbon dioxide to grow. All the animals that consume phytoplankton absorb the CO2, but when they defecate or die, most of them return it to the ocean, where it recycles. The oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including some from the burning of fossil fuels and this encourages an abundance of phytophankton.
Woods Hole biologists Laurence Madin and Patricia Kremer of the University of Connecticut and colleagues found that one swarm of these tiny jellyfish covered almost 40,000 square miles of the sea surface and consumed almost 74% percent of phytoplankton every day, removing it from the ocean and preventing it from evaporating back into the atmosphere. Instead, it was contained in their fecal pellets, which sank down into deep water at the rate of up to 4,000 tons of carbon a day. – strieber