Flight paths of seabirds soaring over the ocean surface enable measurement of fine-scale wind speed and direction
OPEN Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 28 Jul 2016
Y Yonehara, Y Goto, K Yoda, Y Watanuki, LC Young, H Weimerskirch, CA Bost and K Sato
Ocean surface winds are an essential factor in understanding the physical interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean. Surface winds measured by satellite scatterometers and buoys cover most of the global ocean; however, there are still spatial and temporal gaps and finer-scale variations of wind that may be overlooked, particularly in coastal areas. Here, we show that flight paths of soaring seabirds can be used to estimate fine-scale (every 5 min, ∼5 km) ocean surface winds. Fine-scale global positioning system (GPS) positional data revealed that soaring seabirds flew tortuously and ground speed fluctuated presumably due to tail winds and head winds. Taking advantage of the ground speed difference in relation to flight direction, we reliably estimated wind speed and direction experienced by the birds. These bird-based wind velocities were significantly correlated with wind velocities estimated by satellite-borne scatterometers. Furthermore, extensive travel distances and flight duration of the seabirds enabled a wide range of high-resolution wind observations, especially in coastal areas. Our study suggests that seabirds provide a platform from which to measure ocean surface winds, potentially complementing conventional wind measurements by covering spatial and temporal measurement gaps.
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