Researchers propose measuring the abundance of ocean algea by gauging the sounds from its photosynthesizing.


We have observed that marine macroalgae produce sound during photosynthesis. The resultant soundscapes correlate with benthic macroalgal cover across shallow Hawaiian coral reefs during the day, despite the presence of other biological noise. Likely ubiquitous but previously overlooked, this source of ambient biological noise in the coastal ocean is driven by local supersaturation of oxygen near the surface of macroalgal filaments, and the resultant formation and release of oxygen-containing bubbles into the water column. During release, relaxation of the bubble to a spherical shape creates a monopole sound source that ‘rings’ at the Minnaert frequency. Many such bubbles create a large, distributed sound source over the sea floor. Reef soundscapes contain vast quantities of biological information, making passive acoustic ecosystem evaluation a tantalizing prospect if the sources are known. Our observations introduce the possibility of a general, volumetrically integrative, noninvasive, rapid and remote technique for evaluating algal abundance and rates of primary productivity in littoral aquatic communities. Increased algal cover is one of the strongest indicators for coral reef ecosystem stress. Visually determining variations in algal abundance is a time-consuming and expensive process. This technique could therefore provide a valuable tool for ecosystem management but also for industrial monitoring of primary production, such as in algae-based biofuel synthesis.

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