TAGGED seals have been “tweeting” information to experts to help gather vital climate data on some of the harshest environments on the planet using new technology designed by scientists at St Andrews University.

Sensors made at the university’s sea mammal research unit allow teams of experts around the globe to gather information on the conditions of the remotest parts of the world’s oceans.

The information which has been gathered over the last decade will be made available to scientists as part of a new data portal being launched today.

The MEOP (Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole-to-pole) portal offers data on parts of the planet virtually inaccessible to man.

By tapping into the natural habitat of seals, such as the ice-bound polar regions, researchers have been able to build up a detailed picture of areas which are currently very difficult for humans to visit and monitor.

Since 2004, a small army of seals equipped with sensors on the front of their heads has produced nearly 400,000 environmental profiles, resulting in one of the world’s largest oceanographic databases for polar oceans.

Mike Fedak, professor of biology at St Andrews University, said: “The fact that animals have collected the data is an interesting innovation.

“But perhaps of more general importance is that data from these remote and inaccessible places now gives us a much clearer picture of the state of the world’s oceans.

“We have shown that data from these far-flung locations is critical to understanding the broader state of the global ocean.”

The sensors – or “tags” – are non-invasive and fall off when the animal moults. The tags send information periodically back to researchers in short messages via satellites.

Dr Lars Boehme, of the university’s Scottish Oceans Institute, said: “The information sent back to us gives us details about the seal’s immediate physical environment. It’s like tweeting.”

Data is decoded and processed back in St Andrews, before being shared with a consortium of international scientists.

Information has also been relayed to the Met Office and similar bodies across the world for use in weather forecasting.

Other scientists around the globe, including the British Antarctic Survey, also did their own individual research using the data, before making it available for other experts and climate researchers to use via the new portal.

The St Andrews technology forms part of a global ocean observation system, including satellites, that marine animals such as seals are now becoming an essential component of.

Boehme said: “Changes in the polar oceans have global ramifications and a significant influence on weather and climate.

“Sustained observations are required to detect, interpret and respond to change and a strategic system of observations combining a range of platforms is critical.

“The new portal will make available all the data collected by animals up to now to the wider international scientific community and will import future animal platform data as well.

“This development is particularly timely as an increasing number of studies now focus on the importance of data from these remote and inaccessible parts of the sea.”