In an unprecedented collaboration between NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, scientists from a cross-section of fields pooled massive data sets together to investigate the possible connection between space weather and marine mammal mass stranding events.
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Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein/Scott Wiessinger
The age-old mystery of why otherwise healthy dolphins, whales and porpoises get stranded along coasts worldwide deepens: After a collaboration between NASA scientists and marine biologists, new research suggests space weather is not the primary cause of animal beachings — but the research continues. The collaboration is now seeking others to join their search for the factors that send ocean mammals off course, in the hopes of perhaps one day predicting strandings before they happen.
Scientists have long sought the answer to why such animals get beached, and one recent collaboration hoped to find a clear cut solution: Scientists from a cross-section of fields pooled massive data sets to see if disturbances to the magnetic field around Earth could be what confuses these sea creatures, known as cetaceans. Cetaceans are thought to use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Since intense solar storms can disturb the magnetic field, the scientists wanted to determine whether they could, by extension, actually interfere with animals’ internal compasses and lead them astray.
During this first attempt, the scientists — from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the International Fund for Animal Welfare, or IFAW; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM — were not able to hammer down a causal connection.
Now, the team is opening their study up much wider: They’re asking other scientists to participate in their work and contribute data to the search for the complex set of causes for such strandings.
GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 22.214.171.124.0