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Question 11 of 24

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Words in Context


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Information and Ideas


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Passage Content

Questions 9–14 are based on the following passage and supplementary material.

This passage is adapted from Ed Yong, “Turtles Use the Earth’s Magnetic Field as Global GPS.” ©2011 by Kalmbach Publishing Co.

In 1996, a loggerhead turtle called Adelita swam across 9,000 miles from Mexico to Japan, crossing the entire Pacific on her way. Wallace J. Nichols tracked this epic journey with a satellite tag. But Adelita herself had no such technology at her disposal. How did she steer a route across two oceans to find her destination?

Nathan Putman has the answer. By testing hatchling turtles in a special tank, he has found that they can use the Earth’s magnetic field as their own Global Positioning System (GPS). By sensing the field, they can work out both their latitude and longitude and head in the right direction.

Putman works in the lab of Ken Lohmann, who has been studying the magnetic abilities of loggerheads for over 20 years. In his lab at the University of North Carolina, Lohmann places hatchlings in a large water tank surrounded by a large grid of electromagnetic coils. In 1991, he found that the babies started in the opposite direction if he used the coils to reverse the direction of the magnetic field around them. They could use the field as a compass to get their bearing.

Later, Lohmann showed that they can also use the magnetic field to work out their position. For them, this is literally a matter of life or death. Hatchlings born off the sea coast of Florida spend their early lives in the North Atlantic gyre, a warm current that circles between North America and Africa. If they’re swept towards the cold waters outside the gyre, they die. Their magnetic sense keeps them safe.

Using his coil-surrounded tank, Lohmann could mimic the magnetic field at different parts of the Earth’s surface. If he simulated the field at the northern edge of the gyre, the hatchlings swam southwards. If he simulated the field at the gyre’s southern edge, the turtles swam west-northwest. These experiments showed that the turtles can use their magnetic sense to work out their latitude—their position on a north-south axis. Now, Putman has shown that they can also determine their longitude—their position on an east-west axis.

He tweaked his magnetic tanks to simulate the fields in two positions with the same latitude at opposite ends of the Atlantic. If the field simulated the west Atlantic near Puerto Rico, the turtles swam northeast. If the field matched that on the east Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands, the turtles swam southwest. In the wild, both headings would keep them within the safe, warm embrace of the North Atlantic gyre.

Before now, we knew that several animal migrants, from loggerheads to reed warblers to sparrows, had some way of working out longitude, but no one knew how. By keeping the turtles in the same conditions, with only the magnetic fields around them changing, Putman clearly showed that they can use these fields to find their way. In the wild, they might well also use other landmarks like the position of the sea, sun and stars.

Putman thinks that the turtles work out their position using two features of the Earth’s magnetic field that change over its surface. They can sense the field’s inclination, or the angle at which it dips towards the surface. At the poles, this angle is roughly 90 degrees and at the equator, it’s roughly zero degrees. They can also sense its intensity, which is strongest near the poles and weakest near the Equator. Different parts of the world have unique combinations of these two variables. Neither corresponds directly to either latitude or longitude, but together, they provide a “magnetic signature” that tells the turtle where it is.

Orientation of Hatchling Loggerheads Tested in Magnetic Fields

The figure presents an image titled "ORIENTATION OF HATCHLING LOGGERHEADS TESTED IN MAGNETIC FIELDS." The image shows two circles, one on the left and one on the right. On each circle there are equally spaced tick marks around the entire circle and, starting on the top of each circle, the tick marks are labeled clockwise from zero degree through 330 degrees, in increments of 30 degrees.  The circle on the left is labeled "West Atlantic, Puerto Rico," and has an arrow beginning at the center of the circle and pointing to the upper right corner at 50 degrees.  The circle on the right is labeled "East Atlantic, Cape Verde Islands," and has an arrow beginning at the center of the circle and pointing to the lower left corner at 217 degrees. The image is cited as "Adapted from Nathan Putman, Courtney Endres, Catherine Lohmann, and Kenneth Lohmann, 'Longitude Preception and Bicoordinate Magnetic Maps in Sea Turtles.' Copyright 2011 by Elsevier Incorporated."

Adapted from Nathan Putman, Courtney  Endres, Catherine Lohmann, and Kenneth Lohmann, “Longitude Perception and Bicoordinate Magnetic Maps in Sea Turtles.” ©2011 by Elsevier Inc.

Orientation of hatchling loggerheads tested in a magnetic field that simulates a position at the west side of the Atlantic near Puerto Rico (left) and a position at the east side of the Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands (right). The arrow in each circle indicates the mean direction that the group of hatchlings swam. Data are plotted relative to geographic north Syntax error from line 1 column 49 to line 1 column 73. Unexpected '<mstyle '.


Select an Answer

As used in line 3, “tracked” most nearly means

searched for.

Correct Answer: 

traveled over.

Correct Answer: 


Correct Answer: 


Correct Answer: 

Choice C is the best answer because the context makes clear that Nichols followed Adelita’s “epic journey with a satellite tag” (line 4).

Choice A is not the best answer because while “tracked” sometimes means “searched for,” it would make little sense in context to say that Nichols searched for Adelita’s “epic journey with a satellite tag” (line 4). It is more reasonable to conclude from the passage that Nichols knew about Adelita and her journey and used a satellite tag to help follow it.

Choice B is not the best answer because while “tracked” sometimes means “traveled over,” it would make no sense in context to say that Nichols traveled over Adelita’s “epic journey with a satellite tag” (line 4).

Choice D is not the best answer because while “tracked” sometimes means “hunted,” it would make no sense in context to say that Nichols hunted Adelita’s “epic journey with a satellite tag” (line 4).

Question Difficulty: 
Passage Complexity: 

Students must determine the meaning of a word in the context in which it appears.