Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Endangered Turtles’ Trek Along Ocean Currents Revealed By Satellite

04.08.2004


The site where Europe’s spacecraft are launched into orbit, the Atlantic shoreline of French Guiana, is also the starting point for another hardly less remarkable journey: the epic migration of the critically endangered leatherback turtle.



Scientists have been using tracking sensors to follow the long treks of individual leatherbacks, then overlaying their routes with sea state data, including near-real time maps of ocean currents gathered by satellites including ESA’s ERS-2 and now Envisat.
They are working to uncover connections between the apparently meandering routes followed by turtles and the local ocean conditions, and so develop strategies to minimise the unintended but deadly threat posed to leatherbacks by deep-sea fishing.

These giant reptiles - known to reach 2.1 metres in length and weigh in at 365 kg - briefly come ashore to lay their eggs on beaches across French Guiana and neighbouring Suriname, the turtles’ last remaining major nesting sites in the Atlantic Ocean. Around nine weeks later the hatchlings emerge en masse and head into the sea, one day to return when they reach maturity and lay eggs themselves.



However each turtle’s return is by no means certain. While in open water the turtles have been known to dive as deep as 1,230 metres in search of food, most of the time they do not venture deeper than 250 metres down, leaving them vulnerable to the hooks of longline fishermen – hundreds of thousands of such hooks are deployed daily across the Atlantic.

Ongoing ’bycatching’ of leatherbacks by fishermen has left the 100-million-year-old species on the brink of extinction in the Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Atlantic their numbers are higher – partly due to a ban on longline US fishermen operating in the Ocean’s northern section - but the turtles are still being lost at an unsustainable rate.

A paper was recently published in Nature summarising the work done so far in tracking leatherbacks through the Atlantic, submitted by a team of researchers from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research in Strasbourg, neighbouring Louis Pasteur University, the French Guiana Regional Department of the Environment and the company Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS) in Ramonville, specialising in satellite-based systems for location-finding, data collection and Earth Observation.

Pacific leatherbacks follow narrow migration corridors. Researchers hoped that if their Atlantic counterparts acted in the same way then fishing could be restricted across these zones.

Starting in 1999 individual turtles were tracked using the CLS-run Argos system, based on radio-emitting tags whose position can be tracked worldwide to a maximum accuracy of 150 metres. Six American NOAA spacecraft currently carry Argos receivers, with ESA’s MetOp series due to join the system following their initial satellite launch next year.

The turtles’ tracks were then overlaid with maps of sea level anomalies obtained by merging data with the radar altimeter aboard ESA’s ERS-2 with another aboard the NASA-CNES satellite TOPEX-Poseidon.

ERS-2, like its successor Envisat, is part of the select group of satellites equipped with a Radar Altimeter (RA) instrument. By firing thousands of radar pulses off the surface of the sea every second extremely precise ocean height measurement is made possible. Height anomalies detected by this type of sensor are often indicators of the presence of ocean currents and eddies: warm currents can stand up to a metre above colder waters.

By merging multiple radar altimeter results together, the result is a more frequent and higher resolution measurement of sea level anomalies than any one spacecraft could achieve. For example, now that ERS-2’s global mission is over, results from Envisat’s RA-2 instrument are being combined with similar data from the joint French-US Jason spacecraft and the US Navy’s GFO.

"The altimetry data has been very useful to our work because we have been able to check the turtles’ trajectory against ocean currents," said Philippe Gaspar, co-author of the Nature paper and Head of the Satellite Oceanography Division of CLS. "What we have found is that their relationship with currents alters considerably over the course of their journeys.

Unlike their Pacific relations, the Atlantic leatherbacks do not follow narrow migration corridors but disperse widely - to begin with, the leatherbacks carry out long nearly straight migrations either to the north or to the Equator, swimming across currents as they encounter them. One made it to within 500 km of West Africa before turning back, another came close to Nova Scotia.

"Then having either made it to the Gulf Stream area or to the equatorial belt, the turtles tend to slow down and follow the frontal areas associated with local ocean current systems, which are generally rich in marine life."

Unfortunately fishing fleets target these frontal systems for exactly the same reason, so these turtles are placing themselves in danger. This finding means limited closures of Atlantic fishing areas is unlikely to have much impact in turtle bycatch reduction, and other solutions will have to be considered, such as turtle-friendly fishing gear and hooks recently developed by NOAA and endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund.

Meanwhile leatherback tracking continues on an ongoing basis, Gaspar added: "We are now looking at estimating the swimming speed of turtles during their trips by obtaining their total velocity from the Argos receivers, then subtracting the current velocity made available to us by altimetry. This has never been done before and should provide us with useful information on the energy they expend throughout their migration."

French schools have been given the chance to take part as part of an educational oceanographic scheme called Argonautica, with classes participating in the Argo-luth project, analysing turtle movements against outputs from MERCATOR, a model that presently covers the North and Equatorial Atlantic Ocean and assimilates radar altimeter data on an operational basis.

Mariangela D’Acunto | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling
07.12.2016 | National Centre for Biological Sciences

nachricht Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists
07.12.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

How to turn white fat brown

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>