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For a long time, paleontologists have used fossil remains to study the physiology and evolution of varied species, with taxonomists classifying them under respective kingdoms, phyla, or genera. Darwin formulated the theory of natural selection by studying animals, plants, relic skeletons, or impressions during his 5-year travel in South America and Pacific Islands. But when curiosity grows, a faster and more efficient tool for ruminating and studying ancient organism behavior is necessary. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools that have played revering roles in the design and optimization of aerovehicles to reduce proposing on tracks, in climate modeling, VFX effects in movies are expected to predict ancient as well as present-day organism behavior in turbulent waters, on Jupiter, or any other exotic environment.
Rarely do we realize that our movements or actions involve fluid dynamics, whether it is waving our hands, flipping a pen over our fingers, or rowing a boat across the rough waters –involves pushing fluid or creating vortices. Similar is the case in animals or microorganisms. For instance, flamingos, often seen in groups, thrive in alkaline and poor environments. Their mastery of fluid dynamics is very much evident in their feeding behaviors. These birds use their beaks to swirl the water, creating vortices that help them sieve small fish or other muddy creatures from dirty waters. Sometimes, they lift their heads upwards, allowing them to gulp the food down their throat.
Similarly, penguins use their flippers (wings) to propel through the waters. The hydrodynamics of the wings or flippers allow them to swim and migrate long distances. A group of students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology is studying the swimming mechanism in penguins using CFD. Different sets of sweep angles and angles of attack are used to study the lift-to-drag ratio. The maximum lift-to-drag ratio is noted at moderate sweep angles and an angle of attack before stall. Here, CFD has widened the window of knowledge on penguin flippers' hydrodynamics and can offer many more insights with modern technology tune-ups.
Fossils are a reliable source of information, indicating life today is different from what it was in the past. They have helped us in building evolutionary relationships. But our inquisitive minds never stop, it wants to know more about the varied species’ behavior on land and in water; and how their body parts help them survive hostile environments, etc. The non-linear equations used in CFD simulations can teach us how archaic species move and feed in their respective habitat or during seasonal migrations. Often three dimensional (3D) models of these fossils are replicated and used for CFD studies.
Fossils of ammonoid shells are available in abundance and were a significant part of the prehistoric marine ecosystem. But there is no particular evidence of how they contributed to the ecosystem. Few researchers used CFD to study the hydrodynamic characteristics of this extinct species. At first, they used CFD simulation for problems with known solutions to check the accuracy and efficiency of the method. In the next step, they tested the 3D model for the drag coefficient at different water flow velocities. This study showed that shell inflation and umbilical exposure directly impact the ammonoid shells' hydrodynamic characteristics. There are also studies where CFD simulations have helped understand how 500 million years old archaic relatives of starfish fed. It was concluded that their body shapes compensated for stability in water and feeding advantages. New CFD technologies have immense potential for better simulation accuracy and faster solutions for multiple morphologies.
At least once in our life, we would all have wished to live among prehistoric mammals or animal species, and today this is partly possible with virtual reality (VR). VR picturization can be made more realistic with a better understanding of how these different organisms moved and fed. Plenty of fossil remains of ancient animal species are yet to be explored for their feeding and locomotive behaviors, which could paint a picture different from what we have known. Therefore, the contribution of CFD studies on archaic animal species is not restricted to just understanding evolution but has a far more unprecedented role.
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