Study: Salps help clean Earth's oceans

July 6, 2006 at 4:02 PM
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WOODS HOLE, Mass., July 6 (UPI) -- U.S. marine scientists say jellyfish-like creatures known as salps may be more important in regulating carbon dioxide in the ocean than has been thought.

Biologists Laurence Madin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Patricia Kremer of the University of Connecticut and colleagues found salps about the size of a human thumb swarm by the billions in the ocean, possibly transporting tons of carbon dioxide daily from the ocean surface to the deep sea and keeping it from re-entering the atmosphere.

One specific salp species --Salpa aspera -- multiplies into dense swarms that last for months over areas as large as nearly 39,000 square miles, consuming up to 74 percent of microscopic carbon-containing plants from the surface daily. Then the salps' sinking fecal pellets transport thousands of tons of carbon into deep water.

"Salps swim, feed, and produce waste continuously," Madin said. "They take in small packages of carbon and make them into big packages that sink fast."

The study was detailed in the May issue of Deep Sea Research.

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