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Camera drones used to track arctic seals

Dec. 14, 2010 at 9:31 PM   |   Comments

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Cameras on unmanned aircraft flying over the arctic are assessing declining sea ice and tracking seals as they haul up onto ice floes, U.S. researchers say.

The project is monitoring ice and seals in remote areas without putting pilots and observers at risk, Elizabeth Weatherhead of the University of Colorado at Boulder said in a release from the university Tuesday. The team is using a camera drone with a 10-foot wingspan that is owned and operated by the University of Alaska.

Tracking the seals is important as the Arctic rapidly warms as a result of human-produced greenhouse gases, climate scientists say.

Warming temperatures and sea ice loss concern biologists because they are affecting some Arctic marine and terrestrial mammals.

"Because ice is diminishing more rapidly in some areas than others, we are trying to focus on what areas and types of ice the seals need for their survival," Peter Boveng, leader of the Polar Ecosystems Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, said. "By finding the types of ice they prefer, we can keep track of that ice and see how it holds up as the Arctic sea ice extent shrinks."

The four species of Arctic seals the research team says they most want to track are the bearded, ringed, spotted and ribbon seals -- each of which rely in some way on sea ice for breeding, resting and as a safe haven from predators.

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