How sea turtles can help detect cyclones

Hakai Magazine has an interesting new piece about data collection in and around the Indian Ocean, where frequent cyclones can sometimes kill thousands of people. Scientists have struggled to understand or predict the patterns of cyclones because of the limits of the oceanographic buoys. They can collect data from the surface of the water, sure, but a lot of the information they need about temperature, speed, salinity, et cetera comes from deep in the ocean.

So naturally, they enlisted the help of some turtles:

At first, Bousquet tried seabirds, like tropicbirds and puffins, but they were too lightweight for the sensors. So he turned to sturdier helpers: loggerhead and olive ridley sea turtles.

Now here is a hardy character that can wear a 250-gram tag, travels thousands of kilometers each year, and reliably comes back to its natal beach. This homing instinct makes it easier for scientists to recover the sensor's full suite of data, instead of just the summaries that the equipment can send to satellites over limited bandwidth while the turtle is out and about.

Sea turtles are excellent candidates for another reason. The energy that powers a tropical cyclone comes mostly from the water. To predict if a storm will intensify, you need to know what's going on in the ocean just below the surface, from about 25 to 200 meters depth. Sea turtles spend most of their time in exactly this layer, so their intel is perfect for tropical cyclone forecasting.

How Tagged Turtles Are Boosting Tropical Cyclone Prediction [Kate Golden / Hakai Magazine]