“Tweeting” seals collecting ocean data for international database

2 June 2015

Diving marine animals are proving to be an essential way of collecting oceanographic data especially in hard to reach areas such as the ice-bound Polar Regions. Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) tags seals in the Southern Ocean and this data is a major contributor to a new international data portal.

“The transmitters send short bursts of compressed information to satellites that then relay the data back to us with details about the seal’s immediate physical environment.” says Professor of Marine Ecology, Rob Harcourt, at Macquarie University, “It’s like tweeting.”

In the last decade, hundreds of diving animals have been helping to monitor remote areas in the Polar oceans.  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.

From June 1, 2015, national oceanographic data centres and researchers will be able to access data collected by marine animals via the Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole-to-pole (MEOP) Portal (www.meop.net). The international MEOP consortium formed during the International Polar Year in 2008-2009, with participants from ten countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, South Africa, United States).   

The diving animals are equipped with special ocean sensing data logger/transmitters which are programmed to collect ocean profiles in parallel to biological information when animals dive for food.  

The animal CTD profilers (called CTD-SRDLs for Conductivity Temperature Depth – Satellite Relay data loggers) are small battery powered instruments that, operating under programmatic control, take measurements once each second as animals ascend from their deepest dives. They then organise these data into a message that is relayed to a satellite which in turn relays it back to be processed into standardised time and location stamped profiles.  

The growing time series of Southern Ocean observations that has been collected by IMOS is already available via the IMOS data portal https://imos.aodn.org.au/imos123/

IMOS is a national collaborative research infrastructure, supported by Australian Government. It is led by University of Tasmania in partnership with the Australian marine & climate science community.

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