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Drone has Arctic seals in its sights

作者:令狐苕    发布时间:2017-06-15 01:00:24    

By Joel Shurkin An ex-military drone that has Arctic seals in its sights could make tracking the marine mammals’ fate far easier. Tracking Arctic wildlife and monitoring the local climate is dangerous and difficult work, often requiring unusual approaches. For instance, instrument-bearing narwhals have recently improved ocean-temperature estimates. Now, military technology is providing biologists with their data. An unmanned aircraft, the Scan Eagle, was adapted from military use by Elizabeth Weatherhead‘s team at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Launched from ships, it has a wingspan of 3 metres and uses image-recognition software to identify individual seals after first measuring the extent of the white ice against the black water. It’s already known that polar ice is receding. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, the area of sea ice is at historic lows. That’s bad news for the region’s seals, which use ice for breeding and nursing, and as a refuge from predators. One species, the ringed seal – which never goes ashore – is already listed under the US Endangered Species Act. Scan Eagle is owned and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has produced 27,000 images in two years. Flights over the Bering Sea last from 2 to 8 hours, at altitudes of between 90 and 300 metres. As it flies over the icy waters, the drone sends data back to the researchers. However, it doesn’t solve all the problems of research in the Arctic. “It’s probably not a silver bullet, because seals are in the water a large proportion of the time and that proportion varies with weather or ice conditions,” says Lee Cooper, a high-latitude oceanographer at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Solomons. “So the aircraft is primarily going to work for animals resting on ice. “But it’s an interesting piece of the emerging puzzle for how to improve observations in the Arctic and should provide new data of interest to Arctic researchers.” Weatherhead reported the research at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco this week. You can try out your own seal-spotting skills on the University of Colorado website. More on these topics:

 

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