Listening to the Arctic

Written by on November 8, 2012 in Technology
View from underneath Arctic sea ice.

View from underneath Arctic sea ice. Photo credit: Rolf Gradinger, NOAA/OER.

Over the past few years, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have deployed many underwater listening devices in the Arctic to record whale calls.  But, the scientists are also using the recordings to monitor changes in the Arctic marine ecosystem.

Scientists are predicting that we will see ice-free summers within only one or two decades.  As the ice cover lessens, new areas of the Arctic are opening up to scientists and the oil, fish and shipping industries alike.  That puts pressure on scientist to learn as much as possible about the basic ecosystem processes in order to help decision makers.

Using sound recordings, NOAA scientists have discovered that whales remain in Arctic and sub-arctic seas for much longer than previously thought.  They have recorded grey whale calls in the western Beaufort Sea and fin whale calls in the Bering Sea in the middle of winter–a time when whales were assumed to be down south.

“Once you overlay where marine mammals are, what they’re doing, potentially how many there are, with the habitat you’re dealing with, the oceanography, and other ecological variables out there, you start to build a comprehensive ecosystem picture,” explained Sue Moore, a marine ecologist with NOAA.  “And that’s where acoustics can really help fill some gaps in our understanding.”

Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska.

Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska. Photo credit: NOAA.

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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