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Sea Butterfly Swimming Behavior as a Bio Assay for Ocean Acidification.

Raised of $3,000 Goal
Ended on 4/30/16
Campaign Ended
  • $44
  • 2%
  • Finished
    on 4/30/16

About This Project

Winged propulsion usually requires a power stroke followed by a recovery stroke. A potentially more efficient design is used by the sea butterfly (pteropod), a critical food source of arctic vertebrates. This snail-like creature swims with wings that flap in a figure 8 pattern just like a fruit fly, but rolls over in its spiral shell so the every stroke is a power stroke! We will research the performance of this novel design, and from it develop a bioassay for the impact of ocean acidification.

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What is the context of this research?

In 2014, I spent 4 months in Antarctica funded by NSF to study the flight of the sea butterfly Limacina helicina. It is dissolving. Why? Because CO2 enters from the atmosphere and makes the sea acidic. Within 30 years, this delicate creature is predicted to go extinct in the West Antarctic Peninsula region. While I care that my students will see the demise of this tiny flying snail, I am more concerned about the fish, penguins, and whales that love to eat this delicious organism; those charismatic megafauna will have a hard time finding another food that is so protein-rich. What will the world look like? What else will disappear that supports our lives? Please limit your carbon usage.

What is the significance of this project?

Ocean acidification (OA) poses a serious threat, particularly to organisms that precipitate calcium carbonate from seawater. One organism with an aragonite shell that is a key to high latitude ecosystems is the pteropod. With OA, the pteropod shell will thin because the aragonite is highly soluble. As the shell thins, it changes the mass distribution and buoyancy of the animal, which will affect locomotion, and through it, all locomotion dependent behavior such as foraging, mating, predator avoidance and migratory patterns. The loss of these sentinels of anthropogenic increases in CO2 may result in an ecological shift since some pteropods are responsible for ingesting nearly half the primary production in the Southern Ocean.

What are the goals of the project?

Our interdisciplinary research relies on biological studies of the 3D swimming behavior of the pteropod mollusk Limacina helicina in their natural environments with fluid mechanics analyses of swimming hydrodynamics via 3D tomographic particle-image velocimetry and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). In this study we will: (a) determine how the L. helicina uses its “wings” (parapodia) to propel itself; (b) examine whether its locomotory kinematics provide efficient propulsion; (c) identify the factors that influence swimming trajectory and “wobble”; and (d) synthesize all data and insights into guidelines for the potential use of pteropod swimming behavior as a bioassay for OA and serve as an early warning of impending onset of OA effects on this important members of the plankton.


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This elusive creature lives in the fjord in northern north Norway. I need to fly to the research station on Svalbard Norway from my home institute Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Meet the Team

Jeannette Yen
Jeannette Yen
Sea Butterfly Swimming Behavior as a Bio Assay for Ocean Acidification. Ocean Acidification


Jeannette Yen, School of Biology, Center for Biologically Inspired Design; Don Webster, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech; Rajat Mittal, Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins.
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Jeannette Yen

Dr. Jeannette Yen is the Director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Biologically InspiredDesign (CBID). The goals of CBID are to bring together faculty who seek to facilitate interdisciplinary research and education for innovative products and techniques based on biologically-inspired design solutions. CBID participants believe that science and technology are increasingly hitting the limits of approaches based on traditional disciplines, and Biology may serve as an untapped resource for design methodology. Experiencing the benefits of Nature as a source of innovative and inspiring principles encourages us to preserve and protect the natural world rather than simply to harvest its products. Jeannette team-teaches the interdisciplinary course in biologically inspired design [http://www.]. She has been a Professor of Biology at Georgia Tech since 2001 with a Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary environmental science of biological oceanography where she studies how fluid mechanical and chemical cues transported at low Re flow serve as communication channels for micro-aquatic organisms, primarily zooplankton: key link in aquatic food webs. She has been to all 7 continents, including Antarctica for her research and education.

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  • 3Backers
  • 2%Funded
  • $44Total Donations
  • $14.67Average Donation
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