Inertial bioluminescence rhythms at the Capo Passero (KM3NeT-Italia) site, Central Mediterranean Sea

J Aguzzi, E Fanelli, T Ciuffardi, A Schirone, J Craig, KM3NeT-Italia/NEMO Collaboration

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In the deep sea, the sense of time is dependent on geophysical fluctuations, such as internal tides and atmospheric-related inertial currents, rather than day-night rhythms. Deep-sea neutrino telescopes instrumented with light detecting Photo-Multiplier Tubes (PMT) can be used to describe the synchronization of bioluminescent activity of abyssopelagic organisms with hydrodynamic cycles. PMT readings at 8 different depths (from 3069 to 3349 m) of the NEMO Phase 2 prototype, deployed offshore Capo Passero (Sicily) at the KM3NeT-Italia site, were used to characterize rhythmic bioluminescence patterns in June 2013, in response to water mass movements. We found a significant (p < 0.05) 20.5 h periodicity in the bioluminescence signal, corresponding to inertial fluctuations. Waveform and Fourier analyses of PMT data and tower orientation were carried out to identify phases (i.e. the timing of peaks) by subdividing time series on the length of detected inertial periodicity. A phase overlap between rhythms and cycles suggests a mechanical stimulation of bioluminescence, as organisms carried by currents collide with the telescope infrastructure, resulting in the emission of light. A bathymetric shift in PMT phases indicated that organisms travelled in discontinuous deep-sea undular vortices consisting of chains of inertially pulsating mesoscale cyclones/anticyclones, which to date remain poorly known.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44938
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date23 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • animal migration
  • ecosystem ecology


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