They never built castles like we were promised in the ads on the back of comic books, but it turns out that Sea Monkeys (a.k.a. brine shrimp) might have the power to move oceans and transport nutrients to deep underwater environments.

Although brine shrimp don't grow any larger than 0.6 inches, researchers from the California Institute of Technology say that the crustaceans likely create large eddies as they move en masse, changing ocean currents much like winds and tides do.

Like other zooplankton, brine shrimp vertically migrate in large groups in response to changing light conditions, coming closer to the surface at night and retreating deeper during the day. They move in the water column in large, dense herds, sometimes numbering into the billions. Based upon lab experiments, the scientists believe that these movements contribute to biomixing — the stirring up of nutrients, heat and salinity between the surface and deeper waters.

The researchers estimate that the migrating zooplankton may collectively add as much as a trillion watts of power to drive ocean circulation — the combined energy from wind and tides are already estimated to add about two trillion watts.


As the academic blog JSTOR Daily reports, brine shrimp and their fellow zooplankton provide other crucial services as well:

Daily vertical migration is a strategy for improving feeding opportunity while avoiding predation. Diving deep during the day, small organisms avoid dangerous diurnal hunters that prowl shallow water while still gaining access to the greater food resources of the surface layer. It's a long, tiring trip, but worth it since feeding in shallower water provides access to photosynthesis and the nutrition it produces — virtually unobtainable in the depths where it is always dark. Migrating organisms bring carbon back down deep with them from the surface, providing food for an area where it would otherwise be very scarce.

Some carbon is carried directly down in the form of the organisms' bodies, where they can be eaten by deep-sea predators. However, most of it comes in the form of feces, which in the case of many small aquatic organisms, are very carbon and nutrient-rich

If the experimental results are confirmed in the field, then the sea monkeys and other vertical migrants are even more crucial than anyone realized. They not only provide nutrients for distribution, but simultaneously provide the means of that distribution throughout the ocean. Sea monkeys are therefore the root of both major physical and major biological processes, and few if any other organisms on Earth can claim that distinction.