Saturday, 14 April 2012

Scientists Take to Skies to Count Threatened Seals

A few days from now, weather permitting, the most ambitious survey of Arctic seals ever attempted will send scientists soaring above ice-choked seas to count mammals that many fear are facing increasing threats because of climate change.

A joint team of U.S. and Russian scientists is slated to spend mid-April through May flying nearly 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) over Arctic waters that border the two countries aboard small aircraft.
The planes are scheduled to fly at altitudes between 800 and 1,000 feet (240 and 300 meters) to avoid disturbing the animals, and researchers will use high-resolution digital cameras and thermal sensors to spot the seals. The images will be analyzed later in the lab.

"The most novel thing about the survey is the pairing of the two imaging devices," Peter Boveng, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the principal investigators of the survey, said in a statement. "The thermal or infrared cameras are good at detecting the warm seals on ice, but not for identifying the species of the seals. The high-resolution digital camera provides photos that can be used for species identification, and counting seals. By putting the two together, an efficient system is created," he said.

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