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MEOP web portal : ocean observations by marine mammals

Jul 15, 2015

As of May 2015, a one-of-the-kind web portal named MEOP (Mammal Exploring the Ocean from Pole to Pole) provides operational access to the full international database of validated ocean observations collected by marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and turtles.

Efficient ocean profilers

Among marine mammals, elephant seals are particularly well-adapted to providing observations. Indeed, they are able to continuously dive to great depths (590 ± 200 m, with maxima around 2000 m) for long durations (average length of a dive 25 ± 15 min, maximum 80 min).

Profiles of temperature and salinity collected by Antarctic seals and transmitted through the Argos satellite system, although less accurate than those obtained by Argo profilers or oceanographic vessels, are now the main source of oceanographic data available for the southern part of the Southern Ocean. Over 240,000 temperature/salinity/fluorescence profiles have been collected since 2004, sampling nearly every month of the year.
In particular, a decrease in surface temperatures near the Antarctic continent and a substantial increase in salinity west of the Antarctic Peninsula were found in the seal-constrained estimate.

Why marine animals provide such rich ocean observations

The use of conventional research vessels to collect ocean profiles is very expensive, and does not guarantee access to areas where sea ice is found at the surface of the ocean during the winter months. Other technologies, such as Argo floats, exist, but this technology is not easy to use in glaciated areas.

The MEOP web portal bears the fruits of a unique international collaboration involving German, American, Australian, Brazilian, British, Norwegian, South African and French teams yielded more than 240,000 profiles collected by 550 seals with Argos tags from a dozen different sites in the Antarctic area over the period 2004-2013. Argos tag instrumented seals have collected data in places where access is difficult, if not impossible, offering an interdisciplinary approach that benefits both biologists and climatologists

In this article, adapted from their recent paper, “Elephant Seals Help us to Better Observe the Southern Ocean”, published in the Mercator Ocean Quarterly Newsletter, April 2014, F. Roquet, S. Blain, C. Guinet, and G. Reverdin highlight two scientific studies that explain the important contribution of elephant seals to ocean climate science. Argos Forum #80

Oceanography with Argos