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High-tech software, umanned planes allow scientists to keep tabs on Arctic seals
Date:12/14/2010

A novel project using cameras mounted on unmanned aircraft flying over the Arctic is serving double duty by assessing the characteristics of declining sea ice and using the same aerial photos to pinpoint seals that have hauled up on ice floes.

The project is the first to use aircraft to monitor ice and seals in remote areas without putting pilots and observers at risk, said Elizabeth Weatherhead of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who is leading the study team. Weatherhead is a senior scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Monitoring the seals is important because the Arctic is rapidly warming as a result of human-produced greenhouse gases building up in Earth's atmosphere, according to climate scientists. Warming temperatures and sea ice loss are of concern to biologists because they are impacting at least some Arctic marine and terrestrial mammals.

"Because ice is diminishing more rapidly in some areas than others, we are trying to focus on what areas and types of ice the seals need for their survival," said Peter Boveng, leader of the Polar Ecosystems Program at NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

"By finding the types of ice they prefer, we can keep track of that ice and see how it holds up as the Arctic sea ice extent shrinks," said Weatherhead.

Weatherhead gave a presentation on the subject at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union held in San Francisco Dec. 13 to Dec. 17. Other scientists involved in the project include Boveng, Robyn Angliss, deputy director of NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, NMML researchers Michael Cameron and Erin Moreland, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Greg Walker.

The four species of Arctic seals of most interest to the research team are the bearded, ringed, spotted and ribbon seals, each of which rely
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Contact: Elizabeth Weatherhead
Elizabeth.Weatherhead@colorado.edu
303-497-6653
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert

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