Animal borne sensors successfully capture the real-time thermal properties of ocean basins

Clive R. McMahon, Emmanuelle Autret, Jonathan D. R. Houghton, Phil Lovell, Andrew E. Myers,Graeme C. Hays

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 3:392-398 (2005) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2005.3.392

ABSTRACT: Climate change is perhaps the most pressing and urgent environmental issue facing the world today. However our ability to predict and quantify the consequences of this change is severely limited by the paucity of in situ oceanographic measurements. Marine animals equipped with sophisticated oceanographic data loggers to study their behavior offer one solution to this problem because marine animals range widely across the worldÂ’s ocean basins and visit remote and often inaccessible locations. However, unlike the information being collected from conventional oceanographic sensing equipment, which has been validated, the data collected from instruments deployed on marine animals over long periods has not. This is the first long-term study to validate in situ oceanographic data collected by animal oceanographers. We compared the ocean temperatures collected by leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Atlantic Ocean with the ARGO network of ocean floats and could find no systematic errors that could be ascribed to sensor instability. Animal-borne sensors allowed water temperature to be monitored across a range of depths, over entire ocean basins, and, importantly, over long periods and so will play a key role in assessing global climate change through improved monitoring of global temperatures. This finding is especially pertinent given recent international calls for the development and implementation of a comprehensive Earth observation system (see http://iwgeo.ssc.nasa.gov/documents.asp?s=review) that includes the use of novel techniques for monitoring and understanding ocean and climate interactions to address strategic environmental and societal needs.