Skiles co-manages the Develop program with Cynthia Schmidt at Ames. The Develop program, supported by the NASA Science Mission Directorate Applied Sciences Program, encourages student teams to investigate the use of NASA science research results and observations relevant to societal concerns and perform advanced, analytical experiments demonstrating their contribution to national policy and decision-making.
Researchers say there are big advantages to knowing where to find the walrus. When conducting surveys, researchers know where to go to make the count and fewer resources are used, which make the studies more cost-effective.
During the USFWS survey, a low-flying aircraft with a thermal sensor onboard scanned for thermal signatures, or walrus. Since walrus are warmer than the ice surrounding them, each point on the flight path, or scanline, represented the presence of walrus Satellite imagery is used to supplement the airborne thermal data to classifly ice types, which is difficult to do because of its contiguous nature.
Once the two sets of data were collected, flight-path imagery was overlaid on satellite imagery of the same region and similar time period. Understanding certain sea ice features such as density and proximity to open water is key to identifying areas where the walrus can be found. Results from analysis of the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data suggests that walrus seem to prefer regions composed almost entirely of medium thickness approximately 24 ft. (70 -120 cm.) first-year ice.
"This study is by no means exhaustive. Our data suggest the possibility that sea ice features may be critical factors for the walrus when choosing a habitat. Using techniques developed during this project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be able to determine, over time, if climate change is affecting Pacif
Contact: Rob Gutro
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center