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Southern Ocean frontal structure and sea-ice formation rates revealed by elephant seals


Charrassin, JB and Hindell, MA and Rintoul, SR and Roquet, F and Sokolov, S and Biuw, M and Costa, D and Boehme, L and Lovell, P and Coleman, R and Timmermann, R and Meijers, AJ and Meredith, M and Park, YH and Bailleul, F and Goebel, M and Tremblay, Y and Bost, CA and McMahon, CR and Field, IC and Fedak, MA and Guinet, C, Southern Ocean frontal structure and sea-ice formation rates revealed by elephant seals, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105, (33) pp. 11634-11639. ISSN 0027-8424 (2008) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

© 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

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DOI: doi:10.1073/pnas.0800790105


Polar regions are particularly sensitive to climate change, with the potential for significant feedbacks between ocean circulation, sea ice, and the ocean carbon cycle. However, the difficulty in obtaining in situ data means that our ability to detect and interpret change is very limited, especially in the Southern Ocean, where the ocean beneath the sea ice remains almost entirely unobserved and the rate of sea-ice formation is poorly known. Here, we show that southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) equipped with oceanographic sensors can measure ocean structure and water mass changes in regions and seasons rarely observed with traditional oceanographic platforms. In particular, seals provided a 30-fold increase in hydrographic profiles from the sea-ice zone, allowing the major fronts to be mapped south of 60°S and sea-ice formation rates to be inferred from changes in upper ocean salinity. Sea-ice production rates peaked in early winter (April–May) during the rapid northward expansion of the pack ice and declined by a factor of 2 to 3 between May and August, in agreement with a threedimensional coupled ocean–sea-ice model. By measuring the highlatitude ocean during winter, elephant seals fill a ‘‘blind spot’’ in our sampling coverage, enabling the establishment of a truly global ocean-observing system.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Antarctic Circumpolar Current , instrumentation , marine predators
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Oceanography
Research Field:Physical oceanography
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Effects of climate change on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic environments (excl. social impacts)
UTAS Author:Hindell, MA (Professor Mark Hindell)
UTAS Author:Rintoul, SR (Dr Steve Rintoul)
UTAS Author:Coleman, R (Professor Richard Coleman)
UTAS Author:Meijers, AJ (Dr Andrew Meijers)
ID Code:54600
Year Published:2008
Web of Science® Times Cited:125
Deposited By:Centre for Marine Science
Deposited On:2009-02-25
Last Modified:2009-06-10
Downloads:543 View Download Statistics

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