University of Cambridge > > Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series > Emergence of phytoplankton patchiness at small scales in mild turbulence

Emergence of phytoplankton patchiness at small scales in mild turbulence

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DNM - The mathematical design of new materials

Sailors have known for millennia that periodically the seas appear of unusual color and can even turn red. These large swaths of colors stretching for tens or hundreds of km are caused by countless microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. These are microscopic algae that use sunlight to produce energy. They are the base of the marine food chain, and produce 50% or more of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Phytoplankton often encounter turbulence in their habitat. The spatial distribution of motile phytoplankton cells exhibits patchiness at distances of decimeter to millimeter scale for numerous species with different motility strategies. The explanation of this general phenomenon remains challenging. We combine particle simulations and continuum theory to study the emergence of patchiness in motile microorganisms in three
dimensions, by including hydrodynamic cell-cell interactions, which grow more relevant as the density in the patches increases. By addressing the combined effects of motility, cell-cell interaction and turbulent flow conditions, we uncover a general mechanism: the coupling of cell-cell interactions to the turbulent dynamics favors the formation of dense patches.
[R. E. Breier, et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 115 , 12112 (2018)]

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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