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.
According to a paper published today by a team of French, Australian, US and British scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, elephant seals fitted with special oceanographic sensors are providing a 30-fold increase in data recorded in parts of the Southern Ocean rarely observed using traditional ocean monitoring techniques.
"They have made it possible for us to observe large areas of the ocean under the sea ice in winter for the first time," says co-author Dr Steve Rintoul from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) and CSIRO's Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship.
"Conventional oceanographic platforms cannot provide observations under the sea ice, particularly on the Antarctic continental shelf where the most important water mass transformations take place. Until now, our ability to represent the high-latitude oceans and sea ice in oceanographic and climate models has suffered as a result."
Co-author, University of Tasmania Professor Mark Hindell says the seal data complements traditional oceanographic sampling from ships, satellites and drifting buoys. "By providing ocean measurements under the sea ice, the seals are helping us to establish the global ocean observing system we need to detect and understand changes in the ocean," he says.
The polar regions play an important role in the earth's climate system and are changing more rapidly than any other part of the world. In the southern hemisphere, the limited observations available suggest that the circumpolar Southern Ocean has warmed more rapidly than the global ocean average and that the dense water formed near Antarctica and exported to lower latitudes has freshened in some locations and warmed in othe
|Contact: Craig Macaulay|