It is common knowledge that the weather conditions in Antarctica, also known as the South Pole, are incredibly brutal. Penetrating the depths of water beneath the surface layer of ice is something that is almost impossible for humans.
However, that didn’t deter the Japanese scientists’ desire to find out what and how the situation deep in the depths of the frigid waters was. They also take advantage of animals that usually live in the waters, namely seals.
Project leader Nobuo Kokubun said they used eight Weddell seals. The animals were each equipped with a 580g device on their head to record water temperature and salinity deep in the water.
“During the summer, we can go (to Antarctica) on an icebreaker to do actual research activities, so we can collect data there. But during winter, such things cannot be done in many places. However, even in situations like during winter, a lot of animals like seals live in the Antarctic area, so I think we should have them collect data for us.”
Their project is not a new project. However, the results of the project study which was carried out between March and November 2017 in Antarctica, or to be precise during the winter there, were released recently, as the discussion about climate change and its impact on the environment, including Antarctica, is getting more and more intense.
He said such research helps scientists track behavioral patterns and the ecology of animals. The device placed on the seal’s head is called a CTD, which is nothing but a conductivity, temperature and depth sensor. The sensors allow scientists to collect observational data in areas where environmental conditions are particularly harsh.
Data collected by seven of the eight seals showed that one of the animals traveled 633 kilometers from the coast of Japan’s Showa Station in Antarctica while the other descended to a depth of 700 meters.
Based on the data collected, Kokubun said scientists knew that warm seawater from the upper layers of the open ocean could reach Antarctica from March to winter that year. The water flows beneath the ice sheet, and carries sea creatures such as the Antarctic krill, which are a major food source for seals.
The next project of this Japanese team of scientists is to study the impact of global warming on the Antarctic coastal area. Kokubun hopes to modify the CTD so that it can be attached to other Arctic animals such as penguins.
“The advantage of penguins is that they always come back to the same place and we can immediately collect data from them. In addition, another advantage is that we can leverage our device on penguins in large numbers so that it can cover a wide area of research.” [ab/uh]