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Camera-Wearing Elephant Seals Collect Vital Climate Change Data

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Southern Ocean elephant seal wearing a sensor on its head in the Southern Ocean, AntarcticaThe Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem CRC in Tasmania, Australia has outfitted elephant seals with sensors and cameras to explore the depths of the ocean in the hopes of obtaining more information about climate change.

The seals were chosen because they are able to get into places along the coastline where ships cannot possibly journey. Sensors on the seals provided precise data on the conditions in the Antarctic.

Researchers are concluding that Antarctic bottom water – a sense deep later of water close to the floor of the ocean – greatly affects ocean currents. The seals are the only deep divers that can explore the depths of the ocean and transmit data back to the researchers. In fact, some of the seals have already ventured as far down as 1.1 miles, making it into a layer of dense water. By so doing, they obtained measurements never before obtained at that depth.

Southern Ocean elephant seals are enormous, often growing up to 20 feet long. They can weigh 8800 pounds. Researchers are using 20 seals and releasing them for data collection from Davis Station in east Antarctica. The sensors on their heads weights up to 200 grams.

Over 60 dives will take place to collect as much data as possible.

Researchers stress these seals are helping to redraw the map of the large-scale Antarctic oceanography in the Atlantic. By studying the variability and change rates of the Antarctic bottom water, researchers will have greater insight into climate change and can improve numerical modeling to predict response to climate change.

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