If you were to stare down into one of a few dozen intertidal pools at low tide, as waves glide in and out, you might have a hard time spotting the robots.
That’s because they look just like the real mussels that surround them. (If you want to see how hard it is, try clicking on the robotic mussel in the photo above.)
“It’s a problem finding them again,” said Brian Helmuth, a professor of marine science and public policy at Northeastern University, “because they do look so much like mussels.”
The robotic mussels, which were devised about 18 years ago by Dr. Helmuth, contain little thermometers and data loggers that record the temperature every 10 minutes, approximating the internal temperature of the actual mussels nearby.
Dr. Helmuth describes these mussels as an example of “biomimicry,” a relatively new field of science that uses natural processes, structures and strategies to deal with human problems.
The battery powered mussels, nestled in beds from Canada to Chile and from Oregon to New Zealand, provide greater insight into the thermal stresses being placed on various organisms by climate change, Dr. Helmuth said. The data undermines the widely held theory that only animals and plants living at the edges (southern in the Northern Hemisphere, northern in the Southern Hemisphere) of a habitat will be most affected by rising temperatures, causing them to die off or migrate. Instead, species in various “hot spots,” as he calls them, are likely to be affected by a warming world, too.
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