Researchers Team Up With Greenland Native Seals to Study Rising Seas

Here’s a scientific dilemma for you to put your mind to for a moment: what do you do when you need specific readings from locations all-but impossible to reach by any traditional human means?

Turns out, if you are David Holland, a professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, you recruit ringed seals.

Holland has been studying changes in the sea level off the coast of Greenland for years now. He collects data on glacier formation and then determines future global sea level changes based on the amount of melting ice there is.

He’s had a problem though, with many areas where he needs readings difficult to reach for anyone with two legs.

Ringed Seals Helping Study Greenland Fjords
Come on! Just try and tell me that seal isn’t voluntarily signing up for scientific swimming duty!

Enter the ringed seals.

It was in fact Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid, a senior scientist in the Department of Birds and Mammals at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, who thought that recruiting local help might be the way to go.

So the scientists studying the glaciers teamed up with the Greenland Department of Natural Resources to tag seals in the fjords that Holland was trying to study; a safe and humane method of catching and releasing the seals.

“Seals are a natural choice in these harsh conditions,” explains Holland, “and they are unharmed. It takes less than 15 minutes to secure the device, after which point the seal returns to the ocean. When the animal naturally sheds its outer coat, the transmitter simply falls off.”

Read a Matthew Reilly book, or Wikipedia for any length of time, and you’ll know that seals are incredibly resilient. Able to dive to great depths at phenomenal speeds, allowing them to reach some of the most inaccessible locations on our planet.

The seals are fitted with devices which can gather information regarding water temperature, salinity, and depth, as well as location. When the seal surfaces for air the transmitter will phone home and send its information back.

“It’s really quite astonishing to get these data, because the animals are going places that we as researchers find extremely difficult to reach due to heavy ice cover and large icebergs,” Holland explains.

2012 saw three seals working for Holland, and another three are currently roaming the fjords of Greenland unwittingly (or, as I like to imagine, wittingly) providing a wealth of scientific data to the researchers.

Source: New York University
Image Source: ilovegreenland on Flickr

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