Elephant Seals Help Scientists Understand Climate Change

Scientists in Australia have recruited elephant seals, fitted with sensors on their heads, to help collect data on ice formation, ocean currents and climate change.

The seals can go where satellites and ship-based monitors cannot; under winter sea ice, where the seals dive to a depth of more than 500 meters (1,500 feet) on average and to a maximum depth of nearly 2 km (a mile).

Eighty-five seals are involved, and with the data they’re sending back researchers are able to determine what the ocean currents are doing, how temperatures and salinity are changing, and how quickly or slowly ice is forming.

Earth’s polar regions are the front lines of our planet’s climate crisis. It’s both where the effects of climate change are most dramatically playing out, and where scientists can best learn what the future holds for us. Temperatures in the Arctic, polar bear territory, are rising at almost twice the rate of that of the rest of the world, while the Southern Ocean is warming more rapidly than the global ocean average.

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