So what is an Animal Form Temperature Profiler?

Seal TrackingIt turns out the grey seals that were tagged to give scientists some insight into the life of a Cape Cod seal are providing a wealth of information into another area of oceanography. Call it an unintended, but very welcome, consequence. It’s one of the interesting discoveries I’ve found after a few months of reporting stories for North Carolina Science Now. Scientists are very enterprising folks when it comes to applying data to answer multiple questions.

In this case, take the question of ocean depth and temperature.

Scientists want to create a temperature profile of the ocean to help them describe the physical properties of the ocean and how those properties are changing.

The research is primarily done using CTDs, or Conductivity Temperature Depth profilers. The device is lowered on a wire from a ship, and it measures the ocean temperature at various intervals. Until now, it was the only way to gather the data. However, as you can imagine, sending a ship out for that kind of research gets pretty expensive.

Seal TrackingNow, it turns out the devices used in the seal tracking study already contain a temperature and depth gauge. That’s because the seal researchers need that information to record what environments the seals are traveling through.

SOOOO... Now introducing: The Animal Form Temperature Profiler!!!!

During seven months of tracking, the one seal dove underwater 10,000 times and recorded more than 100,000 temperature measurements. A generalized sampling of the data shows at the surface, the water temperature was around 11-12 degrees Celsius. At a depth of 50 meters, the temperature dropped to 9 degrees Celsius. If you double the depth to 100 meters, the temperature dropped an additional degree to 8 degrees Celsius. The data will be used to validate and refine ocean models.

For ocean profilers, the seal data was an unexpected gift: it was not only accurate but it was constant, because the seal was always active and diving. It would be physically and economically impossible to collect that much information by any other means. The Duke researchers are now collaborating with scientists at Rutgers University who are creating the ocean profiles. 

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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