Seals sporting sensors on their foreheads are doing their part to aid a team of international scientists in gathering data from the oceans surrounding Antarctica. It’s an initiative meant to help them better understand global warming, ice covers, and even weather forecasting.
The project started way back in 2004 and so far ended up involving more than 1.000 seals.
This past Minday (June 1, 2015), the team working on the project launched the public portal “Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole To Pole” (www.meop.net), where they’re uploading all of the data collected on how global warming is changing the ocean around Antarctica, and how the seals are adapting to said changes.
Mike Fedak, head of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrew’s University, gave a statement explaining that “They [the seals] are taking data from places where there has been virtually no data before. It’s unique. This data can be used in lots of different ways including for measuring the movement of glaciers, which impacts on the world’s oceans”.
Fedak and the rest of the Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole To Pole (which includes eleven (11) countries – Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greenland, Norway, South Africa and the United States) have put together 300.000 profiles of the water in the last ten (ten) years. They offer information on ocean temperature and salinity levels found in waters as deep as 6.000 feet.
The sensors do not transmit the data real-time, but rather hold on to it until the seals reach the surface, then send it forward to the scientists via satellite. Lars Boehme, project researcher and lecturer at St Andrew’s, gave an excited statement saying that the information send back to the team offers them details about the seal’s immediate physical environment. He says it’s a lot like tweeting.
The seals are “enrolled in the program” when they find themselves trapped and immobilized, and the scientists can easily get to them. They measure the seals and glue on the sensor before releasing them back, an hour later.
The scientists are however in constant need of “volunteers” as the sensors stop being useful after about a year, when the “recruited” seals molt their skin, and with it the monitoring device.
The sensors currently being used are battery-powered and weight about one pound.
There are however other sensors in development. These new ones will measure oxygen levels found in the water, as well as the amount of chlorophyll which would help researchers determine the carbon dioxide levels and the ocean acidification.
Image Source: nas-sites.org