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Endangered turtles' trek along ocean currents revealed by satellite

cean height measurement is made possible. Height anomalies detected by this type of sensor are often indicators of the presence of ocean currents and eddies: warm currents can stand up to a metre above colder waters.

By merging multiple radar altimeter results together, the result is a more frequent and higher resolution measurement of sea level anomalies than any one spacecraft could achieve. For example, now that ERS-2's global mission is over, results from Envisat's RA-2 instrument are being combined with similar data from the joint French-US Jason spacecraft and the US Navy's GFO.

"The altimetry data has been very useful to our work because we have been able to check the turtles' trajectory against ocean currents," said Philippe Gaspar, co-author of the Nature paper and Head of the Satellite Oceanography Division of CLS. "What we have found is that their relationship with currents alters considerably over the course of their journeys.

Unlike their Pacific relations, the Atlantic leatherbacks do not follow narrow migration corridors but disperse widely - to begin with, the leatherbacks carry out long nearly straight migrations either to the north or to the Equator, swimming across currents as they encounter them. One made it to within 500 km of West Africa before turning back, another came close to Nova Scotia.

"Then having either made it to the Gulf Stream area or to the equatorial belt, the turtles tend to slow down and follow the frontal areas associated with local ocean current systems, which are generally rich in marine life."

Unfortunately fishing fleets target these frontal systems for exactly the same reason, so these turtles are placing themselves in danger. This finding means limited closures of Atlantic fishing areas is unlikely to have much impact in turtle bycatch reduction, and other solutions will have to be considered, such as turtle-friendly fishing gear and hooks re
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.d'acunto@esa.int
39 06 941 80 856
European Space Agency
4-Aug-2004


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