Army of sensor-equipped seals collects distant ocean data

June 1, 2015
Army of sensor-equipped seals collects distant ocean data

Seals have helped gather information on some of the harshest environments on the planet, using technology designed by scientists at the University of St Andrews.

The resulting data – gathered from remote, icy seas over the last decade – will be made freely available to scientists around the world as part of a new data portal launched today (Monday 1 June 2015).

The MEOP (Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole-to-pole) portal offers – for the first time – data on parts of the planet virtually inaccessible to man. By tapping into the natural habitat of seals, such as ice-bound polar regions, researchers have been able to build up a detailed picture of those areas currently very difficult for humans to visit and monitor.

Thanks to sensors designed and made at the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews, teams of experts around the globe have been able to collect information on the conditions of the world's most remote oceans.

Since 2004, a small army of seals equipped with the sensors has produced nearly 400,000 environmental profiles, resulting in one of the world's largest oceanographic database for polar oceans.

Mike Fedak, a Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews, said, "The fact that animals have collected the data is an interesting innovation in ocean observation. But perhaps of more general importance is that data from these remote and inaccessible places now gives us a much clearer picture of the state of the world's oceans. We have since shown that data from these far-flung locations is critical to understanding the broader state of the Global Ocean."

The sensors – or 'tags' – are non-invasive (they fall off when the animal moults) and the only devices of their kind that can be attached to animals.

Army of sensor-equipped seals collects distant ocean data

The tags sent information periodically back to researchers in short messages via satellites. Dr Lars Boehme, a Lecturer at the University of St Andrews, explained, "The information sent back to us gives us details about the seal's immediate physical environment. It's like tweeting."

Data was decoded and processed back in St Andrews, before being shared with the consortium. Information was also relayed to the Met office and similar bodies across the world for use in weather forecasting.

Scientists around the globe – including St Andrews in Scotland and the British Antarctic Survey - did their own individual research using the data, before making it available for other scientists and climate researchers to use via the new portal.

The St-Andrews technology forms part of a observing system – including satellites - that diving marine animals such as seals are forming an essential component of.

Dr Boehme continued, "Changes in the polar oceans have global ramifications and a significant influence on weather and climate. Sustained observations are required to detect, interpret and respond to change and a strategic system of observations combining a range of platforms is critical in maintaining the flow of information.

"The new portal will make available all the data collected by animals up to now to the wider international scientific community and will import future animal platform data as well. This development is particularly timely as an increasing number of studies now focus on the importance of from these remote and inaccessible parts of the sea."

Explore further: Southern Ocean seals dive deep for climate data

Related Stories

Southern Ocean seals dive deep for climate data

August 11, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Elephant seals are helping scientists overcome a critical blind-spot in their ability to detect change in Southern Ocean circulation and sea ice production and its influence on global climate.

Protecting the unprotected

September 30, 2013

(Phys.org) —Scientists at the University of St Andrews have warned that global efforts to protect marine mammals are likely to leave the most endangered species entirely unprotected.

Satellite images reveal ocean acidification from space

February 16, 2015

Pioneering techniques that use satellites to monitor ocean acidification are set to revolutionise the way that marine biologists and climate scientists study the ocean. This new approach, that will be published on the 17 ...

Tide gauge network to be updated after 30 years at sea

May 13, 2015

The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) has been awarded funding to upgrade the South Atlantic Tide Gauge Network. This network has now been continuously operating in some of Earth's most remote places for 30 years, including ...

Recommended for you

Fighting deforestation alone fails tropical biodiversity

June 30, 2016

International efforts to conserve tropical forest species will fail unless they control logging, wildfires and fragmentation in the remaining forests, according to ground-breaking new research published in the world's leading ...

El Nino could drive intense season for Amazon fires

June 29, 2016

The long-lasting effects of El Niño are projected to cause an intense fire season in the Amazon, according to the 2016 seasonal fire forecast from scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine.

Country pledges overshoot Paris temperature limit

June 29, 2016

Pledges made for the Paris agreement on climate change last winter would lead to global temperature rise of 2.6 to 3.1°C by the end of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature. In fact, the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.