Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Arctic herds could get help from satellites

19.03.2008
Researchers have used satellite data to detect Arctic conditions that cause mass starvation of hoofed animals depended on by native peoples.

Some 20,000 musk oxen died on Canada's far-northern Banks Island because of such conditions during the winter several years ago. Yet, their deaths went unnoticed until the next spring. The new satellite-detection method could provide an early warning to native people, giving them a realistic chance of getting food to herds to prevent mass starvation.

"We are talking about Banks Island, but this applies to the whole Arctic - Alaska, northern Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia - wherever there is permafrost," says Jaakko Putkonen of the University of Washington in Seattle, who participated in the satellite study.

Banks Island is at the edge of the Beaufort Sea inside the Arctic Circle. In October 2003, rain fell for several days there on top of a 6-inch snow cover. The rain seeped through the snow to the soil surface. The temperature then plunged, and the water became a thick layer of ice that lasted the winter. It prevented browsing animals from reaching their food supply of lichens and mosses at the soil's surface.

"Starvation happened over a period of many months, and no one knew until they went up to do the population count the next spring," says the University of Washington's Thomas Grenfell, who traced satellite clues of the Banks Island event with Putkonen.

Rain falling on snow can mean lingering death for musk oxen, reindeer, and other animals that root through the snow to graze on the Arctic tundra. Grenfell and Putkonen found evidence for the 2003 rain-on-snow occurrence in passive satellite microwave imagery, which they believe could provide a signature to help detect such events anywhere.

In the new study, the scientists examined data from 10 different satellite microwave channels, each providing slightly different information on the qualities of the snowpack. "The subtleties in the microwave levels mean there can be high error margins on this information, but the Banks Island event stood out like a sore thumb," Grenfell says.

He and Putkonen detail their work in a paper now in press with Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Grenfell has conducted more than 40 field experiments in polar regions and has become quite familiar with precipitation characteristics there. Much of the previous work he did was with researchers who were interested in the nature of the snowpack, but he found that the presence of water interfered with interpreting satellite microwave readings. For the new research, the signal from water was key, he says.

The researchers hope to search other satellite microwave records for evidence of rain-on-snow events of the last 30 years that are known from anecdotal information.

The 2003 rain-on-snow event affected the northern part of the 43,000-square-mile Banks Island. The musk oxen population of 70,000 was cut by nearly 30 percent, but a caribou herd on the southern part of the island was unaffected. The closest weather station, about 60 miles from the musk oxen range, didn't record any rainfall at the time of the event that resulted in the massive die off, so few people recognized that the oxen were in distress.

Currently, there is no way to know exactly where or how often these potentially devastating rain-on-snow events occur, the researchers say, but using satellite data to locate them could make up for a scarcity of weather stations in the sparsely populated Arctic.

Rain-on-snow events historically have occurred mostly in coastal areas. However, in earlier research, Putkonen found that models predict that climate change will push winter rainfall much farther into northern continents and large islands.

While food shortages can trigger a large die off, there also can be severe consequences from milder events that force animals to exert more energy to get food. That reduces body weight and limits reproduction, which in turn can cause long-term damage to herds.

Peter Weiss | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Smallest transistor worldwide switches current with a single atom in solid electrolyte

17.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Robots as Tools and Partners in Rehabilitation

17.08.2018 | Information Technology

Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves

17.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>