I'm currently working on an underwater robot and was hoping to use the principle used by the nautilus for buoyancy control. So how do the Chambered nautilus control its buoyancy?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They achieve buoyancy in a similar way to submarines: by drawing water in (via hyponomes) to sink, and expelling it to rise. The expulsion is also how they achieve propulsion. $\endgroup$ – lemon Aug 11 '14 at 10:43
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Voting to reopen, since there are no comments explaining why it is unclear. It is lacking in background research but, to me, it is pretty clear what the Q is asking for. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Nov 5 '14 at 8:48

The various species of nautilus use a combination of active transport of salts and passive diffusion of water for buoyancy (Denton and Gilpin-Brown 1966, Ward 1979, Greenwald et al. 1980). The chambers are filled with seawater. Salts from the seawater in the chambers is removed by a structure called the siphuncular epithelium. This process makes the chambered water hypotonic, meaning it has lower solute concentration relative to the animal. The hypotonic water then diffuses from the chambers into the blood, creating air pockets in the chambers. Greenwald and Ward (2010) have a recent summary of what is known about nautilus buoyancy, if you want to know more.

The diffusion of water in is not a rapid process. The maximum ascent and descent rate of Nautilus from depths appears to be about 3.0 m m$^1$ (Dunstan et al. 2011). This does not seem like an efficient process or rate of depth change for an underwater robot.

Literature Cited

Denton, E.J. and J.B. Gilpin-Brown. 1966. On the buoyancy of the peraly nautilus. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdown 3: 726-759.

Dunstan, A.J., et al. 2011. Vertical distribution and migration patterns of Nautilus pompilius. PLoS ONE 6: e16311. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016311

Greenwald, L., et al. 1980. Cameral liquid transport and buoyancy control in the chambered nautilus (Nautilus macromphalus). Nature 286 55-56.

Greenwald, L. and P.D. Ward. 2010. Buoyancy in NAutilus. Topics in Geobiology 6: 547-560.

Ward, P.D. 1979. Cameral liquid in Nautilus and ammontites. Paleobiology 5: 40-49.

  • $\begingroup$ How does the diffusion hypotonic water from the chambers into the blood, creating air pockets in the chambers?? Wouldn't that lead to vacuum creation ?? $\endgroup$ – user8697 Aug 12 '14 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ I do not know but I would guess that it might be similar to the swim bladder in fishes. The gases are extracted from the blood stream and diffuse into the chamber. In fishes this happens by countercurrent exchange. $\endgroup$ – Michael S Taylor Aug 12 '14 at 15:56

As the siphuncle pumps cameral liquid out of a chamber, the pressure of the chamber falls and nitrogen, oxygen, and some carbon dioxide diffuse into the chamber. Sea water gas pressures are in equilibrium with atmospheric gases (oxygen and nitrogen) and are in equilibrium with nautilus blood. Hence as cameral liquid is pumped out of the chamber, gases enter from the blood. But it would make no difference to the buoyant state of the animal if gases entered or if there were a vacuum. The emptying mechanism relies on sodium pumps transporting salt out of the cameral liquid. There is no way to duplicate this biological mechanism in a mechanical system.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.