Data-Gathering Seals Are Deployed in the Antarctic Ocean

Navigating the Antarctic Ocean's waters has always been a tricky proposition for scientists: not only is it expensive to send out ships, it's also extremely difficult (if not impossible) to accurately gather meaningful information. Enter the elephant seals: as part of the new SEaOS project (Southern Elephant Seals as Oceanographic Samplers), an international team of researchers have recruited a small group of these mammals to obtain information that could provide valuable insights into the effects of climate change on the ocean.

Eighty-five migrating seals were rounded up from 4 points around the Antarctic region — South Georgia, the Kerguelen Islands, Macquarie Island and Livingston Island — and mounted with sensors that allowed them to record information about the Antarctic Ocean's temperature changes and current flows stemming from influxes of freshwater from melting ice and warm water from the north. This information was collected every time the seals dived and then relayed via satellite to the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) in the U.S. and the Coriolis Center in France, where oceanographers use the data to craft climate models and track changes in the region. The seals then shedded the sensors upon molting.

"It's a win-win situation. We're getting an amazing data set about the ocean's properties and how the animals' feeding habits react to changes in their environment," said Daniel Costa, one of the lead authors on the study and an ecologist from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Focusing on the changes taking place in the Antarctic Ocean is key to gaining a better understand of global warming's long-term effects. Because it's home to the planet's largest current — the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) — scientists fear that increasing temperatures could result in too much freshwater entering the system, slowing and eventually shutting down the ACC. Such an event would likely exert a dramatic, unpredictable effect on Earth's climate — making it more important than ever that we be ready to anticipate large-scale changes.

Via ::Technology Review: Seals Gather New Ocean Data (news website)

See also: ::Oceans around Antarctica Absorbing Less CO2, ::Antarctic Icebergs Creating New Ecosystems
Image courtesy of Technology Review