Robot mussels help measure the effects of climate change

Their stealthy sensors track long-term changes in body temperature.

Emma Farrer via Getty Images

The mussels you see on the shoreline might not just be soaking up some rays... they could be key to studying climate change. An research team has published data from robotic mussels whose sensors have been collecting temperatures for the past 18 years in a bid to monitor climates around the world. By recording the body heat of the real mussels around them every 10 to 15 minutes, the artificial sea life can track and predict global warming in situations where it's most likely to have a pronounced effect. Mussels are highly dependent on air temperature and sunlight for warmth, so they're more reliable gauges of an ecosystem's health than many other techniques. If they're too hot, something is likely wrong.

The results should help governments and scientists make decisions about climate change policy, but they're not limited to that. The data could assist in saving ecosystems that are facing erosion, water acidification and other relatively treatable problems. In short, these impostor mussels aren't just about understanding the past -- they could help shape the future.