FITTED WITH SENSORS, ANTARCTIC SEALS TRACK WATER TEMPERATURES

WIRED | 6/25/2019 | Carolyn Beeler, PRI's The World
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Click For Photo: https://media.wired.com/photos/5d110018407a634acaa2c7bb/191:100/pass/Science_Thwaites-seals01_TA.jpg

On a rocky island just off the coast of West Antarctica, ecologist Lars Boehme is standing face-to-face with a 1,500-pound elephant seal, eyeing the animal’s bulbous nose and jowls to see if he’s finished shedding his fur.

When the seal opens his mouth wide to bellow, Boehme waves his hand in front of his face like he’s just smelled something foul. “You can hear the amount of air going in and out,” Boehme said of the animal, which is the length of a small car and has a distinctively sour musk. “It’s like an air conditioner.”

Story - PRI - World - Radio - Show

This story was published with PRI's The World, the award-winning public radio show and podcast on global issues, news and insights from BBC, WGBH, PRI, and PRX.

Boehme is on a two-month scientific expedition to Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized glacier that sits at the center of West Antarctica. It’s melting fast and could eventually trigger roughly 11 feet of global sea level rise. Scientists on the voyage are working to decode if, and when, that might happen.

Boehme - Colleagues - Schaefer - Day - Army

Boehme and three colleagues have come to one of the Schaefer Islands on a crisp day in mid-February to enlist an army of seals to help gather climate data.

As penguins squawk in the background and waddle around on small ridges, Boehme and his team look for seals to tag with sensors that will track the layer of warm water that’s thought to be melting Thwaites.

Scientists - Winds - Layer - Warmer - Denser

Scientists believe changing winds are forcing a layer of warmer, denser water called circumpolar deepwater up from the deep ocean and onto the shallower continental shelf in front of West Antarctica. But they don’t know exactly how. Clues from these seals, showing where that warm water is working its way toward the continent, how much of it there is, and how it changes seasonally, are key to...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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