Our understanding of Southern Ocean currents is limited by a lack data, particularly in seasons and locations that are hard for ships to access. By affixing sensors to wild seals, the researchers have built a large database of temperature and salinity profiles, extending our knowledge of this key component of our planet's oceans.
The instrumentation of southern elephant seals with satellite-linked CTD tags has offered unique temporal and spatial coverage of the Southern Indian Ocean since 2004. This includes extensive data from the Antarctic continental slope and shelf regions during the winter months, which is outside the conventional areas of Argo autonomous floats and ship-based studies. This landmark dataset of around 75,000 temperature and salinity profiles from 20–140 °E, concentrated on the sector between the Kerguelen Islands and Prydz Bay, continues to grow through the coordinated efforts of French and Australian marine research teams.
Study co-author and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre oceanographer Guy Williams says the seal data was “invaluable”.
“This is a big step forward; they are taking observations where none exist and where none may ever have existed,” he said. “This is an open data project, so it feeds the world’s climate models; scientists rely on this data and the seals (fill) a gap.”
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About the new Nature journal Scientific Data
The Nature Publishing Group launched their new journal Scientific Data earlier this year. The journal is an open-access, peer-reviewed publication for descriptions of scientifically valuable datasets. The primary article-type, the Data Descriptor, is designed to make data more discoverable, interpretable and reusable.