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

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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 (2008) Southern Ocean frontal structure and sea-ice formation rates revealed by elephant seals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States PNAS, 105 (33). pp. 11634-11639. ISSN 0027-8424

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Abstract

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 Type: Article
Keywords: Antarctic Circumpolar Current instrumentation marine predators
Journal or Publication Title: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States PNAS
Page Range: pp. 11634-11639
ISSN: 0027-8424
Identification Number - DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0800790105
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2009 03:17
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 03:56
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