National / Science & Health

Team including Japanese researchers uses sea turtles to predict ocean temperature change

Kyodo

While measuring sea temperatures and predicting changes is key to long-term weather forecasts, a group of researchers have come up with an unusual way to improve the accuracy of prediction — attaching monitoring devices to sea turtles.

The researchers released five sea turtles in Indonesia, each fitted with a device on its back, to collect data in the Arafura Sea for three months, and predicted the sea temperature would be 0.4 C higher than usual three months later.

The prediction was almost identical to the actual temperature change observed by a satellite, according to the researchers, including Katsufumi Sato, a professor of marine biology at the University of Tokyo, and Takeshi Doi from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

“All five turtles migrated to the Arafura Sea located between northern Australia and New Guinea island. They also stayed there for about 3 months until transmission ceased,” the researchers said in a recently released research article.

“We successfully obtained more than 1,000 depth-temperature profile measurements from June to October 2017 during the sea turtles’ dives,” they said in the article.

Ocean temperature measurements have been undertaken by satellites as well as devices that can submerge up to 2,000 meters, among other equipment.

But conventional methods often lack accuracy when it comes to predicting temperature changes because underwater devices cannot be used in shallow waters.

The team added the use of sea turtles to conventional methods to predict temperatures in the Arafura Sea.

Without using data obtained from the sea turtles, the researchers calculated that the temperature would be 0.2 C lower than usual three months later.

Since sea turtles cannot be used in the cold Antarctic Sea, the marine biologists are using seals to measure the sea temperature there instead.

“If we can choose an animal that migrates in each sea area, we will be able to create an observation network covering the oceans globally,” Sato said.

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