Antarctic oceanographers use seals to research areas inaccessible to humans
Antarctic oceanographers use seals to study continental shelves, which are virtually impossible to reach by boat because layers of ice are attached to the shore.
The Antarctic continental shelves are among the most biologically productive regions of the oceans due to their high nutrient content, which is generated by interactions between the ocean, sea ice and pack ice, according to a report. study published earlier this year in the journal. Limnology and Oceanography.
These water exchanges – especially those between deep warm waters and coastal polynyas, or areas of open water surrounded by sea ice – play a critical role in organic production in all areas of the continental shelf. But because access to these areas by boat is extremely difficult, research on water exchanges between the plateaus and their seasonal variations is limited.
In recent years, researchers have equipped animals like seals, which have much less difficulty navigating frozen waters, with data logging equipment to record conductivity, temperature and depth, or CTD.
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“Previous studies using instruments attached to migrating southern elephant seals and resident Weddell seals – a deep-diving predator – had shown interesting physical processes in the Antarctic areas,” Nobuo Kokubun, assistant professor at the Japanese National Polar Research Institute and lead author of the study. , said in a press release. “But even here, there has been almost nothing investigated on the coastal areas covered in shore ice.”
In a 2017 field study, researchers examined the oceanographic conditions of East Antarctica by attaching CTD satellite relay data loggers with glue to the heads of eight Weddell seals from March through September. Each lumberjack weighed just over a pound and was the size of a “little Rubik’s Cube,” according to the press release.
Using data collected by the equipped seals, the researchers were able to determine that warm, low salinity water appeared in the basement in the fall, and that the depth of the warm water increased. as the season drew to a close. This process increases the availability of prey in the Antarctic coastal marine ecosystem during the fall, the researchers found.
The success of the study suggests that seals may be “powerful tools” for studying conditions on the Antarctic continental shelves covered with shore ice. The researchers said they hope to use other data collected by these animals to predict how the Antarctic coastal marine ecosystem might respond to the retreating pack ice.
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