Celia of the seals

sealhat.jpg It appears that my wish is someone’s command. Last month, blogging on the continuing break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf, I noted a reference to “seal hats” as data gathering devices and expressed a wish to see them. And here they are! Little devices glued to the heads of elephant seals that gather data as the seals as they go about their daily business. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science explains:

Here, we show that southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) equipped with oceanographic sensors can measure ocean structure and water mass changes in regions and seasons rarely observed with traditional oceanographic platforms. In particular, seals provided a 30-fold increase in hydrographic profiles from the sea-ice zone, allowing the major fronts to be mapped south of 60°S and sea-ice formation rates to be inferred from changes in upper ocean salinity. […] By measuring the high-latitude ocean during winter, elephant seals fill a ‘‘blind spot’’ in our sampling coverage, enabling the establishment of a truly global ocean-observing system.

Abstract here, full paper here[PDF]. More coverage at New Scientist, e! Science News.

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