Researchers use 'robomussels' to monitor climate change
Tiny robots have been helping researchers study how climate change affects biodiversity. Developed by Northeastern University scientist Brian Helmuth, the “robomussels” have the shape, size, and color of actual mussels, with miniature built-”‹”‹in sensors that track temperatures inside the mussel beds.
For the past 18 years, every 10 to 15 minutes, Helmuth, professor in the College of Science and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and a global research team of 48 scientists have used robomussels to track internal body temperature, which is determined by the temperature of the surrounding air or water, and the amount of solar radiation the devices absorb. They place the robots inside mussel beds in oceans around the globe and record temperatures. The researchers have built a database of nearly two decades worth of data enabling scientists to pinpoint areas of unusual warming, intervene to help curb damage to vital marine ecosystems, and develop strategies that could prevent extinction of certain species.
Housed at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts, this largest-”‹”‹ever database is not only a remarkable way to track the effects of climate change, the findings can also reveal emerging hotspots so policymakers and scientists can step in and relieve stressors such as erosion and water acidification before it’s too late.
“They look exactly like mussels but they have little green blinking lights in them,” says Helmuth. “You basically pluck out a mussel and then glue the device to the rock right inside the mussel bed. They enable us to link our field observations with the physiological impact of global climate change on these ecologically and economically important animals.”
"These datasets tell us when and where to look for the effects of climate change. Without them we could miss early warning signs of trouble."
—Brian Helmuth, professor in the College of Science and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs
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