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Electronic 'Fish' Helps Us Understand the Trials of Salmon Migration

Nov 06, 2014 03:06 PM EST

Young salmon have a lot to deal with after first being brought into the world. Leaving the safety of their spawning pools, these fish have to dodge predatory birds, bears, sea lions, and even the dangerous turbines of hydroelectric dams during their trek to the ocean. Now researchers have fashioned a new sensor that could help them determine how to make that last part a bit easier.

This is not the first synthetic fish to be subjected to the tumbling down-stream ride salmon face when going through a dam. The first model, called Sensor Fish, looked like its namesake, with a rubber fish body encasing a series of simple pressure sensors.

"The earlier Sensor Fish design helped us understand how intense pressure changes can harm fish as they pass through dam turbines," lead developer Daniel Deng, a chief scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), explained in a statement.

"The newly improved Sensor Fish will allow us to more accurately measure the forces that fish feel as they pass by turbines and other structures in both conventional dams and other hydro power facilities," he added. "As we're increasingly turning to renewable energy, these measurements can help further reduce the environmental impact of hydropower." (Scroll to read on...)

According to Deng and his PNNL team, a great portion of dams in the United States were built in the 1970s or earlier - just when hydropower began to catch on. Now, more than half of the country's renewable energy comes from these dams.

However, while these dams were made with the environment in mind, engineers had little idea of how much of a threat their turbines would pose to young salmon.

Nature World News previously reported how the NOAA is working with officials in the Pacific Northwest to equip damns with fish ladders, hoping to improve the rates of survival for sprinting adult salmon and their offspring, 80 and 20 percent of which, respectively, survive their trip around or through older dams.

According to the PNNL, "the second-generation Sensor Fish is slated to evaluate three small hydro projects in the US, a conventional hydroelectric dam in the US, and irrigation structures in Australia and a dam on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia."

The hope is that the resulting data will help engineers discern even better ways to make our dams safe for fish, even while providing a means for renewable energy.

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