News


The MEOP review is out in Oceanography

I am pleased to announce the publication of "Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole: A Review of the MEOP Consortium" by Anne Treasure et al. Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole: A Review o...

Another short note gives an overview of the current state of ocean observations using tagged animals: Ocean Observations Using Tagged Animals by Roquet et al.

These papers are part of the Special Issue on Autonomous and Lagrangian Platforms and Sensors (ALPS) in Oceanography, following the meeting ALPS (https://alps-ocean.us/) that took place in San Diego last February and was aimed at developing a broad vision for ALPS technology, capabilities, infrastructure, and user base in the next decade, and in the coming decades.

Note that this special issue also include the following papers on new exciting technologies of great potential for bio-logging:

      Do Southern Elephant Seals Behave Like Weather Buoys? by Cazau et al.

      A New Technology for Continuous Long-Range Tracking of Fish  by Rossby et al.

Antarctic predators unravel the mysteries of the Weddell Sea

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Sara Labrousse is Doctor in Marine and Antarctic Science interested in the foraging ecology of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) in relation to physiography, hydrological factors, and sea ice condition. She tells us here about her recent experience in the Weddell Sea, where she deployed CTD-SRDL tags on Weddell seals as part of an oceanographic cruise led by Jean-Baptiste Sallée (CNRS researcher at LOCEAN in Paris) on board the R/V James Clark Ross.  [French link: http://phoques-antarctique-wapiti-2017.blogspot.se/]  


In January-March 2017, I was involved in an oceanographic cruise led by Jean-Baptiste Sallée (CNRS researcher at LOCEAN in Paris) in the Weddell Sea aboard the British Antarctic Survey vessel, the James Clark Ross. 

The Weddell Sea is a unique region responsible for 50 - 70% of the formation of deep water in Antarctica, motor of the global thermohaline circulation regulating the Earth's climate. The Weddell Sea also harbors rich ecosystems associated with the seasonal sea ice dynamics (krill, copepods, fish, birds and marine mammals). However, this sector remains under-sampled and little is known about the oceanographic and biological processes taking place in this region due to compact and extended sea ice making the access difficult even in summer. The cruise represented a unique opportunity to study the ecology of marine top predators by equipping them with satellite-relayed data loggers, in a region where little is known on their movements, foraging activity and their preferences in terms of oceanographic conditions.    

The cruise was part of the WAPITI project (Water-mass transformation and Pathways In The Weddell Sea: uncovering the dynamics of a global climate chokepoint from In-situ measurements) funded by the European Research Council (ERC). WAPITI aims to understand how and where water-masses are pre-conditioned and transported on the Antarctic shelf, before coming into contact with the ice shelves: an highly sensitive process ultimately controlling the rate of melt of the Earth’s largest ice reservoir. Associated with this cruise, we did opportunistic deployment from the R/V James Clark Ross of five Argos tags coupled with diving recorder and a CTD miniaturized sensor on one emblematic specie of pinnipeds, major consumer of the ecosystem of the Antarctic sea ice the Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii). 

Such deployment coordinated within the framework of the physics-based WAPTITI will allow unique interdisciplinary research: (i) acquiring essential information on the feeding ecology of Antarctic seals, where only few studies are available, and (ii) acquiring a vast amount of information on the regional water-mass seasonal cycle and circulation acquired from instruments deployed as part of the WAPITI project, and valuable hydrological data under sea ice in late summer, autumn and winter from the CTD profiles recorded during dives of this predator. The study of the seal diving behavior under sea ice combined with simultaneously recorded hydrographic profiles will first highlight preferred feeding habitat in terms of oceanographic conditions. Secondly, this telemetry monitoring will help to quantify the role of hydrological and sea ice conditions on the abundance and availability of resources in the peri-Antarctic shelf, improving our still very patchy knowledge on ecosystem functioning under winter sea ice. 

Acknowledgements: Jean-Baptiste Sallée (ERC), Jean-Benoit Charrassin (CNES), Clive McMahon & Robert Harcourt (IMOS), and all the WAPITI TEAM;

The MEOP-CTD database in ODV has been updated

The updated version of the MEOP-CTD database is now available in Ocean Data View as a ready-to-use data collection, thanks to Reiner Schlitzer (AWI, Germany):

https://odv.awi.de/en/data/ocean/meop_ctd_marine_mammals_database/

Use ODV to explore MEOP-CTD data, easily plotting the data profiles, property sections and making beautiful horizontal maps with the DIVA gridding software.

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Antarctic bottom water formation in Prydz Bay

Research published today in Nature Communications (Williams et al. 2016), and supported through the Australian Antarctic Program, has demonstrated that fresh water from Antarctic’s melting ice shelves slows the processes responsible for the formation of deep-water ocean currents that regulate global temperatures.

A fourth production region for the globally important Antarctic bottom water has been attributed to dense shelf water formation in the Cape Darnley Polynya, adjoining Prydz Bay in East Antarctica. Here we show new observations from CTD-instrumented elephant seals in 2011–2013 that provide the first complete assessment of dense shelf water formation in Prydz Bay. After a complex evolution involving opposing contributions from three polynyas (positive) and two ice shelves (negative), dense shelf water (salinity 34.65–34.7) is exported through Prydz Channel. This provides a distinct, relatively fresh contribution to Cape Darnley bottom water. Elsewhere, dense water formation is hindered by the freshwater input from the Amery and West Ice Shelves into the Prydz Bay Gyre. This study highlights the susceptibility of Antarctic bottom water to increased freshwater input from the enhanced melting of ice shelves, and ultimately the potential collapse of Antarctic bottom water formation in a warming climate. 

The evolution of Prydz Bay’s dense shelf water contribution to Cape Darnley bottom water. 

   

Release of MEOP-CTD_2016-07-12

Already one year that the MEOP portal has been launched!

A very successful year for our growing community… in one year, 23 new publications using MEOP data have been added, increasing the number of MEOP-related peer-reviewed publications to 94. Simultaneously, the MEOP-CTD database has been included in major oceanographic data centres, including the NODC, Coriolis, and the BODC. More than 100 individual users have requested the database using the MEOP web interface.

It is now time to release a major update of the MEOP-CTD database. In this new version, namely the MEOP-CTD_2016-07-12, more animal-borne instrument data are included. The number of profile publicly distributed has increased from slightly less than 300,000 to almost 400,000 profiles. Also, 125,000 other profiles are included into the database, although they remain private, i.e. accessible only upon request. In total, the database has now reached the 500,000 profiles milestone.

Two datasets have been added in particular, that expand considerably the spatial coverage of the MEOP-CTD database. The first consists of 30,000+ profiles in the northeastern sector of the North Pacific, obtained by instrumenting Northern Elephant Seals in California (D. Costa, University of Santa Cruz, USA group). The second dataset provides 70,000+ temperature-only profiles in the Labrador Sea/Irminger Sea and in Baffin Bay/Hudson Bay/Gulf of St Lawrence shelf areas (see e.g. Straneo et al. 2010, Grist et al. 2011, 2014) from Hooded and Ringed seals (G. Stenson, DFO, Canada group).

Finally, a new stream of data has been added, obtained from TDR (time-depth recorder) attached to elephant seals in the Kerguelen area (PI: C. Guinet, CEBC, French group). The MEOP-TDR database includes 285,000 temperature profiles obtained from 69 different loggers. This dataset has a very high spatial and temporal resolution, with 60-100 profiles per day (i.e. ~4 profiles/hour), allowing to observe mesoscale ocean activity.

To facilitate the access to our database, we have developed Matlab tools and Python tools to read and manipulate files with the netCDF format. Note also that this format can be easily read by the software Ocean Data View. For those not comfortable with the netCDF format, a csv format is also available.

Please continue using our data, and support us by providing us your feedbacks, citing our work and spreading the word around you.

Unraveling the circulation and melwater distribution in the Bellingshausen Sea

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Xiyue Zhang in a mountain trek

Xiyue (Sally) Zhang is a PhD student in Environmental Science and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. She here reporting on some exciting science recently published in the Geophysical Research Letters.


The polar regions have long been fascinating to me, not only for their exoticness, but also their importance to the global climate. My thesis focuses on polar cloud dynamics, and I also worked closely with oceanographers at Caltech to enhance our understanding of ocean/ice shelf interactions in Antarctica.

We started by exploring data from 13 seals that were tagged in 2010. A couple of seals traveled all the way from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to the western Bellingshausen Sea shelf break. What really inspired us to focus on the Bellingshausen Sea is the observational study that showed high ice shelf basal melt rates in the region. Therefore, we decided to use all available data in the MEOP consortium in the Bellingshausen Sea (Figure 1). The seal-borne data are advantageous over the limited cruise-based measurements due to the inaccessible nature of the region: it is geographically hard to reach, and hampered by seasonal sea ice cover.


Figure 1: The Bellingshausen Sea region with dots showing the MEOP profiles. Contours show bottom bathymetry. The big black box highlights the main canyon Belgica Trough (BT). For more information, see Zhang et al. (2016).

Using the temperature, salinity, and pressure data collected by 80 seals in the Bellingshausen Sea region from 2007 to 2014, Zhang et al. 2016 analyzed the three-dimensional water masses distribution at the continental shelf break and on the shelf. The Bellingshausen Sea hosts 6 ice shelves that have thinned rapidly over recent decades. A cyclonic circulation within the Belgica Trough, the main shelf canyon, is identified based on the meltwater distribution. This circulation brings water at least 3 degrees Celsius warmer than the freezing temperature towards the coast on the eastern boundary. Water is modified to be colder and fresher as it exits the Belgica Trough via the western boundary. Furthermore, a westward slope current is implied west of the trough. Our findings support the high basal melt rate and thinning of ice shelves in the region detected by satellite observations. We plan to continue using data from the MEOP consortium to improve our understanding of shelf circulation in Antarctica.    

Find out more in the press, on The Washington Post and (in German) in the Klimaretter.

Fieldwork at Davis Station, Antarctica

This year the Integrated Marine Observing system (IMOS) Animal Tracking facility again sent a team of three researchers to Davis Station in Antarctica for the southern summer to partner with some unlikely research collaborators - southern elephant seals. Sophisticated Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) relay loggers were attached to the seals to collect ocean profiles from south of 60 degrees South.

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Doctors Clive McMahon, Esther Tarszisz and Louise McMahon, all from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, teamed up to build on ten years of ocean sampling by the Australian and French Antarctic Programs and IMOS between Iles Kerguelen and Prydz Bay. The CTD profiles that are currently being beamed back to us via the ARGOS satellite system build on the time-series of high-resolution oceanographic data that looks at annual variation in ocean structure and the formation of the globally important Antarctic Bottom Water. 

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This year the teams at Davis and at Kerguelen managed to get 16 instruments out on southern elephant seals all of which are sending back crucial information on ocean structure of particularly interest is the information being collected in the Barrier and Amundsen Polynyas that will help us build a better picture of dense water formation in the Antarctic. Dense water is the precursor of Antarctic Bottom Water that drives the Southern Ocean component of the ‘global ocean conveyor belt’, a constantly moving system of deep-ocean circulation driven by temperature and salinity. 

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Being part of this globally importnat project is not only scientifically stimulating but, also personally rewarding – after all how fantastic to spend a summer in the Antarctic surrounded by seals, penguins and scenery that is simply stunning.

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The team returned in March and while it still seems like a long way off preparations are in full swing for the upcoming season which include; ordering and shipping equipment, recruiting field staff and of course the all important grant and proposal writing.

Where do olive ridley sea turtles go after nesting on the French Guiana beaches?

To describe the migration and diving behavior of the population of olive ridley sea turtles nesting in French Guiana, 18 females were satellite tracked using CTD-SRDL tags between 2013 and 2015. Results from this exciting study have just been published in Chambault et al. 2016, and are summarized below

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Philippine Chambault, PhD student in ecology at IPHC (Strasbourg, France), taking measurements of a leatherback turtle

The olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea is the smallest of the seven sea turtles species in the world (on average 36 kg for 70 cm), classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and known to have a carnivorous diet, feeding either on crustaceans, cephalopods, jellyfish or even small fishes. Such preys can be found in highly dynamic ecosystems, such as the western part of the Equatorial Atlantic, on the Guiana basin. This productive area is under the influence of the Amazon River plume and is also shaped by strong oceanic currents, i.e. the North Brazil Current and the Equatorial Counter-Current that generate eddies. To identify where olive ridleys migrate and why they select particular areas during their migration, 18 females were equipped with satellite tags, to follow their displacements, as well as their diving behavior and the environment encountered. Therefore, the tags recorded the animal’s location, diving parameters (dive depth, dive duration, surface duration) and oceanographic data (temperature and salinity of the water).

A female olive ridley returning to the sea after being fitted with a satellite tag.    

All the turtles performed a north-westward coastal migration (travelling on average 1502 km), by remaining in relatively shallow waters (between 20-100 m deep) stretching from French Guiana to the Venezuelan coast. They used distinct foraging areas (Fig. 2), some of them located in close proximity to the French Guiana nesting site. 

Figure 2: Trajectories of the 18 olive ridley’s equipped, while transiting (grey) and foraging (black). The red lines refer to 20 m and 100 m isobaths respectively.    

The turtles travelled in the same direction of the Guiana current, flowing north-westward, and therefore they likely saved energy during this energetically costly migration. By remaining close to the shore, the turtles tend to simultaneously avoid the turbulent eddies (highest SSH values, Fig. 3) that are generated by the currents, and also target areas were potential preys tend to aggregate (Fig. 4). 

Figure 3: Map of the Sea Surface Height (in cm, to identify the eddies) and the currents over the Guiana Basin. The white line refers to 100 m bathymetry and the red line is the track of one individual.    

Figure 4: Map of the prey biomass (g.m²) over the Guiana Basin. The white line refers to 100 m bathymetry and the black line is the track of one individual.    

In total and for the 18 tracked turtles, the tags recorded 7400 dives. On average the turtles immersed during 46 min at 44 m deep (Fig. 5). Regarding the oceanographic data, 1196 CTD profiles were recorded, providing a wide range of salinity (from 7.3 to 36.3 psu) and temperature data (from 21.5 to 30.1 °C), due to the numerous rivers discharges along the Guiana coast. This study was the first to use such tags on olive ridley sea turtles, improving therefore our understanding on both the foraging behavior of this carnivorous species as well as the environment encountered, which is particularly fluctuating in this highly dynamic area.

Figure 5: Histograms of the maximum dive depth and dive duration recorded by the tags. 

A trip to the Kerguelen Islands

Between December 18 2015 and January 18 2016, Fabien Roquet from the Stockholm University stayed on the Kerguelen Islands to put instruments on elephant seals. He is giving a short description of his amazing trip here.

For more than a decade now, I have been working with seal-derived oceanographic data, first as a data engineer, then as a PhD student and now as a researcher. Most of the time, this involves to stay seated in front of my computer screen. So much that it is sometimes easy to forget where these amazing data actually come from.

When Christophe Guinet proposed me to join the small team that would go to the Kerguelen Island this year to work on elephant seals, I joyfully accepted. Such opportunities are rare and priceless, plus it had been exactly ten years since I had visited the Kerguelen Islands and the best way to celebrate this anniversary was clearly to go there again.

On December 8, I embarked on board the R/V Marion Dufresne, the French ship that supplies the French Austral Islands several times a year. After a peaceful 10 days long trip, only interrupted by two gorgious days at the Crozet Islands, we arrived at Port-aux-Francais, the scientific and logistic base situated on the eastern part of the main island in the Gulf of Morbihan.

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The “pop-eleph” team in Pointe Suzanne kitchen: (from left to right) Fabien Roquet, Thomas Jaud, Mary-Anne Lea and Baptiste Picard. Credit: F. Roquet (MISU, Stockholm)

This time, the “pop-eleph” team is composed of four people: Mary-Anne Lea, Baptiste Picard, Thomas Jaud and myself. Together, we had to 1) put GLS tags on 24 female fur seals, 2) install 14 CTD-SRDL tags on elephant seals, and 3) recover 10 tags from recently instrumented seals if possible. Most of the fieldwork had to be done at Pointe Suzanne where a hut has been installed by the French Polar Institute for scientists.

Suzanne Point (Pointe Suzanne in French) lies slightly less than 20 kilometers southeast of Port-aux-Francais. It is an incredible place. It consists of three kilometers of subantarctic seashore full of fur seals, elephant seals, gentoo penguins coexisting with great albatros, giant petrels, skuas and other Kerguelen shags. The Point is well protected from the wind and is covered with Cotula plumosa, a very soft herb perfectly suited for the long naps that are so appreciated in those regions.

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Pointe Suzanne in the Kerguelen Islands, 18 km southeast of Port-aux-Francais. Credit: F. Roquet (MISU, Stockholm)

The hut is made of four wooden blocks, linked by a terrasse. Two rooms, a kitchen and a workshop. A solar panel produces the electricity, a water tank collects the rain and food is stocked in waterproof plastic barrels (named Touques). The kitchen has a gas stove and a oven. Life is definitely not too hard in Suzanne Point.

From December 22 until December 30, we installed GLS tags on the female fur seals. Global Location Sensing tags record the light level and temperature during two years, allowing to infer the trajectory of the animal during this period. Light measurements are indeed used to determine the timing of sunrise and sunset, which is then used to estimate the longitude (time of zenith) and latitude (length of day). Temperature can then be used to refine the location estimate.

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Thomas Jaud and Joris Laborie are catching an instrumented elephant seal with the hood to recover an oceanographic tag. Credit: F. Roquet (MISU, Stockholm)

After new year’s eve spent in Port-aux-Francais (and a good shower), we returned to Suzanne Point to begin instrumenting elephant seals. Oceanographic CTD-SRDL tags were attached on female elephant seals weighing between 300 and 600 kg. Two persons hold the hood that will be used to catch the seal. Once the seal is stuck in the hood, an intravenous injection is administered to anesthetized the seal for a 30 minutes period, during which the seal will be tag. The manipulation, especially the catching phase, can be quite spectacular (and quite intimidating the first time), and yet it is not really difficult or dangerous. You just have to wait for the seal to get its head in the hood!

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A female elephant seal a few hours after the instrumentation, hanging out with a few other seals in the comfortable Cotula plumosa fields. A few days later, she left the Island to look for food. She will return in several months when spring comes.
Credit: F. Roquet (MISU, Stockholm)

On December 18, after a month of fieldwork in the Kerguelen Islands, it is time to return on the Marion Dufresne. Two weeks later, we arrive in the island of La Réunion, a volcanic island in the subtropical Indian Ocean. Past the subtropical front, we have no choice but to accept that we have definitely left the realm of Kerguelen, as the temperature is now reaching 30degC and the sun is so high in the sky.

Back in Sweden, Kerguelen seems far away and yet so close. I just have to switch on my computer and connect to the data server and I can see them, living their marine life on the other side of the Earth, deep in the ocean.


YouTube video with a presentation of the trip HERE. And a Swedish summary on the website of the Department of Meterology at Stockholm University.

The MEOP-CTD database in ODV

Thanks to the amazing work of Reiner Schlitzer from AWI (Germany), the MEOP-CTD database is now directly available on the Ocean Data View (ODV) webpage as an easy-to-use Data Entry. Check out the webpage: https://odv.awi.de/en/data/ocean/meop_ctd_marine_mammals_database/

Among the many things you can easily do with ODV, you can produce the following animations of seal data positions (color coding corresponds to measured surface temperature).



info@meop.net © MEOP consortium 2015