PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary A. Hardin
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEOctober 15, 1996
TOPEX/POSEIDON HELPS MARINE BIOLOGISTS STUDY WHALES
Marine biologists aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico are
using maps of ocean currents produced with data from the ocean-
observing satellite TOPEX/Poseidon to help them locate and count
sperm whales and dolphins.
The TOPEX/Poseidon altimeter data, combined with information
European Space Agency's ERS-2 satellite, are being used in near-
real-time to generate circulation feature maps that will be faxed
to scientists aboard the research ship R/V Gyre. These maps
provide scientists with timely information about rapidly changing
ocean features so that scientists can direct the ship toward
those areas to determine if whales and dolphins are present.
"There is evidence that whales prefer to feed in the edges
of cyclonic eddies, and the satellite data give us a good picture
of where those oceanographic features are located," said Dr.
George Born, a principal investigator on the TOPEX/Poseidon
project from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The university is generating the ocean maps and sending
them directly to the
scientists in the Gulf. "The data from TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS-2
greatly enhances our ability to identify and map circulation
features as they occur in the Gulf," said Dr. Robert Leben, a co-
principal investigator on the project at the University of
Colorado at Boulder.
The R/V Gyre left Pascagoula, Mississippi, on October 10 and
will survey the
northeastern Gulf of Mexico until October 28. A previous survey
indicated that whales and dolphins were contacted most frequently
in the area where warm water eddies break off from the Gulf Loop
Current, a strong ocean current that circulates around the Gulf
"The goal of our cruise is to make a visual and acoustic
census of marine mammals and to define their physical and
biological habitat in the northeastern Gulf in areas potentially
affected by oil and gas activities now or in the future," said
Dr. Randall Davis, head of the Marine Biology department at Texas
A & M University at Galveston. "Altimeter data like that from
TOPEX/Poseidon are the only information that enable on-site
adjustments to the cruise plan to optimize the survey track,
ultimately saving us time and money."
The TOPEX/Poseidon satellite was developed to study global
ocean circulation but it is providing unexpected benefits for
marine biologists. "We are very excited that these data are being
used in new and different ways. Scientists are continuing to
applications for this project and are proving they can study not
only ocean currents, but also the creatures that inhabit the
oceans," said Dr. Lee-Lueng Fu, TOPEX/Poseidon project scientist
at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
The TOPEX/Poseidon satellite uses an altimeter to bounce
radar signals off the ocean's surface to get precise measurements
of the distance between the satellite and the sea surface. These
data are combined with measurements from other instruments that
pinpoint the satellite's exact location in space. Every 10 days,
scientists are able to produce a complete map of global ocean
topography, the barely perceptible hills and valleys found on the
sea surface. With detailed knowledge of ocean topography,
scientist can then calculate the speed and direction of worldwide
The R/V Gyre expedition is sponsored by Texas A & M
University, the Texas Institute of Oceanography and the National
TOPEX/Poseidon is a joint mission of NASA and the French
space agency, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The
Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the U.S. portion of the mission
for NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth, Washington, DC.
The Mission to Planet Earth is a long-term, coordinated research
effort to study the Earth as a global environmental system.
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