Save the whales? NOAA is tagging them to map warming

They really need a good labor relations union. They work without pay and don’t even get to say “Thanks for the fish”. Heh.

NOAA-Funded Tagging of Narwhals Finds Continued Warming of Southern Baffin Bay

Proof-of-Concept Study Published in Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans

An expedition to the narwhal summering grounds.An expedition to the narwhal summering grounds in Melville Bay, West Greenland was launched on board on this ship (MV Sila) in September 2006. Narwhals were captured and tagged with satellite transmitters that collected information on location, depth and temperature.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA/University of Washington)

In a research paper published online Saturday in the Journal of Geophysical Research Oceans, a publication of the American Geological Union (AGU), scientists reported the southern Baffin Bay off West Greenland has continued warming since wintertime ocean temperatures were last effectively measured there in the early 2000s.

Temperatures in the study were collected by narwhals, medium-sized toothed Arctic whales, during NOAA-sponsored missions in 2006 and 2007. The animals were tagged with sensors that recorded ocean depths and temperatures during feeding dives from the surface pack ice to the seafloor, going as deep as 1,773 meters, or more than a mile.

Scientists have had limited opportunities to measure ocean temperatures in Baffin Bay during winter months because of dense ice and harsh conditions. Cost is also a factor — it requires millions of dollars to mount a conventional expedition using an ice-breaking vessel and other specialized equipment and people. As a result, for the past decade, researchers used climatology data consisting of long-term historical average observations rather than direct ocean temperature measurements for winter temperatures in the area.

The published study reported that highest winter ocean temperature measurements in 2006 and 2007 from both narwhals and additional sensors deployed using helicopters ranged between 4 and 4.6 degrees Celsius (39.2 and 40.3 degrees Fahrenheit). The study also found that temperatures were on average nearly a degree Celsius warmer than climatology data. Whale-collected temperatures also demonstrated the thickness of the winter surface isothermal layer, a layer of constant temperature, to be 50 to 80 meters less than that reported in the climatology data.

“Narwhals proved to be highly efficient and cost-effective ‘biological oceanographers,’ providing wintertime data to fill gaps in our understanding of this important ocean area,” said Kristin Laidre from the Polar Science Center in the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “Their natural behavior makes them ideal for obtaining ocean temperatures during repetitive deep vertical dives. This mission was a ‘proof-of-concept’ that narwhal-obtained data can be used to make large-scale hydrographic surveys in Baffin Bay and to extend the coverage of a historical database into the poorly sampled winter season.”

Tagged narwhals.Tagged narwhals migrated south into Baffin Bay where they collected and transmitted temperatures from the pack ice through the following spring.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA/University of Washington)

Greenland’s coast is a gateway for fresh water from melting polar ice flowing south to the Labrador Shelf, ultimately reaching the North Atlantic Current. The Arctic flow’s effect on the current is critical for understanding the impacts of a changing Arctic on the transference of heat globally from the equator to higher latitudes.

Laidre was lead scientist on the NOAA-sponsored missions and is lead author of the paper. “Continued warming will likely have pronounced effects on the species and ecosystem in Baffin Bay and may eventually affect sea ice coverage in the region, which in recent years has already retreated significantly,” she said. “The timing of the break-up of spring sea ice is ecologically important for many marine species and is linked to primary production that forms the base of the food chain.”

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research funded the missions in 2006 and 2007 to tag and track narwhals as they made a fall migration from northwest Greenland to their wintering grounds in Baffin Bay. During that time and in an earlier mission, 14 adult narwhals were tagged with sensors to record date and time, ocean temperature and depth information. The data were automatically sent to a satellite when the narwhals surfaced for air between cracks in the sea ice. Tagging was carried out in accordance with the University of Washington’s Animal Care Guidelines and a permit issued by the Government of Greenland. Each sensor tag provided up to seven months of data before falling off the animal.

Helicopter.Oceanographic data were also collected from a helicopter in April 2007 on the frozen sea ice of Baffin Bay.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA/University of Washington)

Laidre worked in Baffin Bay with colleagues and co-authors Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk, Greenland, and Wendy Ermold and Michael Steele also from the Polar Science Center, University of Washington.

The NOAA-sponsored narwhal missions are chronicled online and include lesson plans at three grade levels that align with National Science Education Standards.

Celebrating 10 years of ocean exploration, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research uses state-of-the-art technologies to explore the Earth’s largely unknown ocean in all its dimensions for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.

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Via NOAA News

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45 thoughts on “Save the whales? NOAA is tagging them to map warming

  1. Okay, so we’ve got two sets of data over what is geologically speaking a very narrow time range, and given NOAA’s track record we can keep our crap-detector on regarding apples-to-apples comparison of this data.
    Are we going to find out a decade down the road that narwhals tend to vary their track and depth to find water of what they regard as a more comfortable temperature? Just asking…

  2. To assume that narwhals are a good source of data, their movements must be random, unaffected either directly or indirectly by temperature or other factors, for example, the availability of food.
    We know from outfall vents of major power plants–for example, off the coast of California–that life tends to congregate there because the temperature is warmer. Drawing data from wildlife located near theses vents would produce an entirely erroneous picture of temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

  3. The most obvious thing they have demonstrated by this “study” is just how far people are willing to stretch in order to latch onto the funding cornucopia that global warming has become.

  4. ” 14 adult narwhals were tagged with sensors to record date and time, ocean temperature and depth information”
    I don’t know how much they migrate. There’s no position data. How useful is temperature data if you don’t know where it comes from?

  5. I am sure that if the measured temperature is 0.1 or 0.2 degrees too low, the raw data will be “calibrated”……..

  6. So the temperature record they have is “climatology data consisting of long-term historical average observations rather than direct ocean temperature measurements for winter temperatures in the area.”
    So no actual prior measurements, or have I misunderstood?
    DaveE.

  7. Dave Wendt says:
    October 28, 2010 at 10:04 am
    You’re talking about the narwhals with homes on land, aren’t you?
    Perhaps it’s where they go to lay their eggs.

  8. Wouldn’t there be a WHI (whale heat island) effect? Where’s the study comparing narwhal collected temperatures and buoy measurements?

  9. kwik says:
    October 28, 2010 at 10:19 am
    I am sure that if the measured temperature is 0.1 or 0.2 degrees too low, the raw data will be “calibrated”……..
    #
    Don’t you mean “homogenised”?

  10. In related news, 14 adult narwhals have gone missing. It is believed that they are the victims of poaching …

  11. So all that they are really saying is that it was warm in the arctic in 2007. I don’t think anyone is really arguing about that.
    Not as warm now though as in 2007.

  12. So they have never done it this way, but conclude the water is warming? Based, no doubt, on reliable models from earlier generic observations.
    Science is wonderful. Too bad this ain’t science …

  13. Re Steven Kopits says:

    To assume that narwhals are a good source of data, their movements must be random, unaffected either directly or indirectly by temperature or other factors, for example, the availability of food.

    Or avoiding boats, being captured, tagged 🙂

  14. Hmmmn. Narwhals, eh?
    Now, I’d be impressed if they found 14 big male white sperm whales to sail up next to and stab with those temperature probes ……

  15. It should not be forgotten that the data from these animals only samples specific parts of the ocean and cannot be used to present any kind of representation of the whole. As we know that the various ocean oscillations pump warm waters into the Arctic basin in a regular/semi-regular manner, looking at the condition in the “early” 2000s” and comparing to now means very little.
    Snapshots are worthless as we do not know how the snapshots relate to the various pumping events. A warm water time point could be at the peak of a pumping event and not at all represent the true state of the ocean. When the last bolus of warm water was pumped in as it was in 2007, there was a lot of melting which had nothing to do with Arctic warming, which the Arctic was not. When warm water is pumped into the Arctic, this is not global warming, this is water moving – very different things. The Arctic Rim stations report that there has been no warming up there in 50-60 years.

  16. So trying to use whales to map warming? not climate change, but warming. When will Noaa do an experiment to see how much the temperature has changed, either warming or cooling. This is biased from the start, so they’ll find warming data, because they say they will… There’s something wrong with this form of experimentation, and I won’t believe it because it’s biased from the start.

  17. Billy Liar says:
    October 28, 2010 at 11:01 am
    Dave Wendt says:
    October 28, 2010 at 10:04 am
    You’re talking about the narwhals with homes on land, aren’t you?
    Perhaps it’s where they go to lay their eggs.
    You got it in one. The graphic raises questions about the accuracy of their sat. tracking, but more importantly, to my mind at least, the fact of their choosing these three narwhals, of the 14 available, whose tracks each seem to show the beasts venturing further ashore than the hardiest walrus, to post as a lead image and to leave it there uncorrected, in all its questionable glory for many months, does not inspire tremendous confidence in the intelligence of anybody involved in this project.

  18. Here is an interesting article from the Danish Meteorological Institute about mid-June sea temperatures http://goo.gl/0wXF
    and from 2003 – “increasing trends in sea ice were detected in wintering grounds in Baffin Bay….” http://goo.gl/wljG
    and more here from 2009 – “Many will ask what is the explanation of the two recent finds of polar bears in Nuuk? The reason is probably that the last two winters have been relatively cold, after a long period of mild winters since the mid 1980s. West ice, as propellants and pack ice in Baffin Bay is called, spread thus far to the east and south in recent winters, and closed entirely or partly for navigation north of Nuuk.” http://goo.gl/TUm9
    From a cool Nuuk §.-)

  19. These animals are mammals, and therefore warm-blooded. This is obviously a case of badly-sited thermometers with a temperature bias – Whale Temperature Factor – WTF?

  20. Well the Native Americans of the arctic have permission to hunt Narwhals, so it it helpful to the hunt to keep track of the animals; so they know when to launch their outboard powered whaleskin canoes; to go and shoot them with their Walrus bone rifles.

  21. As Charles Higley says:
    October 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm.
    All they have done is measure the temperature at one time. To get any trend you have to do it for a number of years. How about at least 30 as in satellite observations. What has the temperature done in the last 3 years. Being warmer than climatology proves nothing as the water is moving.

  22. The mind boggles. With no base line of any accuracy what so ever to compare to for calibration purposes, they have simply assumed that no other factors influence the readings they get. The whales dive for food. What is the behaviour of the food? Does the food spread out evenly, or like plants and animals on land, does it congregate in areas most beneficial to growth? If currents change, does the food stay still or does it migrate to the new location? How does the background temp of the new location compare to the old location? In areas where there are a lot of whales, does the food source get diminished, forcing the whales to venture farther afield where conditions for the food source are different? Did they check to see if any of the whales have little wooden boys in them setting a raft on fire?
    C’mon. Seems like they missed a few factors.

  23. davidmhoffer says:
    October 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm
    ===============
    Nice comment.
    They (the narwhals), also seem to be rather resilient, even when packing scientists equipment. Too busy to catch the CO2 malaise, I guess.

  24. I suppose it’s too much to ask that they use a designed for function Argo buoy? Or was that poached by an Inuit hunter too?

  25. ‘Tagging was carried out in accordance with the University of Washington’s Animal Care GuidelinesTagging and a permit issued by the Government of Greenland.”
    A government permit? I didn’t realize Greenland owned the whales.

  26. BTW, I just want to point out, that in all probability the whole point of this exorcise was originally to study the narwhals, not the weather (climate whatever!). But some pointy haired socialist manager saw the opportunity for a publicity stunt. This Press Release then is therefore a sham in a sham about a sham, spinning out a nonsense story purely to keep the AGW noise in the news, and cool looking pseudo-science in front of our vulnerable school children. Propaganda works best when it is all pervasive and uses multiple modalities..

  27. Someone notify the NAACP!!! (NAA of Cetacean Pods….)
    Evil men are enslaving these poor creatures to perform unpaid labor.
    As well, the IRS is interested in the non-payment of taxes based on the work performed.

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