In the News Post #2: Narwhal’s assist NASA in tracking melting Arctic ice

In an article published on NASA’s global climate change website, author Pat Brennan explains how narwhals are becoming “unlikely allies” in NASA’s attempts to understand Greenland’s quickly changing ice sheet. Marine biologist Kristin Laidre called them “unicorns of the sea,” because of how infrequently you can spot a narwhal. She claims that they are one of the worst animals to study due to their shy and ambiguous behavior. Even though their mannerisms make them hard creatures to follow, Laidre tagged a few of these Arctic whales in a collaborative effort that both improves insight on narwhal behavior, and melting glaciers. The data retrieved from these animals will assist NASA in filling a significant scientific goal for a project their completing called “Oceans Melting Greenland” or (OMG). They’re attempting to seek precise data on “where, how, and how fast the warm ocean waters melt Greenland’s ice.” In order to tackle this project, NASA utilized ships, planes, and floating sensor, however, checking the ocean near Greenland’s glaciers can be difficult for a ship due to the bulky sea ice and inlets overwhelmed with icebergs; which is exactly why they are using narwhals. According to Ian Fenty, a NASA oceanographer, “Narwhals spend time feeding in the waters in front of the glaciers- exactly where we need ocean measurements for OMG.” He claims this is because in the summers, sea ice melts and that is when narwhals decide to drift toward these fjords. He continues to explain that since such a minimal amount of people live in northwest Greenland, that there hasn’t been much mapping of the ocean there. Fenty says that’s a problem because it’s important to know why glaciers are melting in that region. The association between Fenty and Laidre began when Fenty became aware of Laidre’s published paper in 2010, where she tracked narwhals with sensors to show continuous warming in Baffin Bay, located west of Greenland. After Laidre and her colleagues briefly captured and attached the narwhals with sensors, the creatures gathered data on temperature, salinity, and depth of the water. This data along with temperature measurements from sensors dropped via helicopter, affirmed a warming trend seen previously in the area. Fenty found it interesting how the whales would travel everywhere in the Baffin Bay, even though at times the ocean was covered in ice. He reached out Laidre to request permission to use her narwhal data to assist his OMG measurements along Greenland’s coast. This lead to NASA and the Office of Naval Research’s agreement to both fund the new study which concentrates on narwhal behavior and changes in Arctic Ice. “Not only will scientists learn about how warming oceans are melting Greenland but this project will also provide scientists like Kristin more data about how narwhal behavior is linked to ocean temperature, salinity, and ice conditions in the fjord, Fenty declared. He concludes the article by stating his hopes that narwhal dive-depth data will benefit him in filling the cracks in his measurements amid the OMG mission.

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