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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 29 Aug 2018

Research article | 29 Aug 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Ocean Science (OS).

What can seabirds tell us about the tide?

Matthew Cooper1, Charles Bishop2, Matthew Lewis1, David Bowers1, Mark Bolton3, Ellie Owen4, and Stephen Dodd5 Matthew Cooper et al.
  • 1School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Wales, LL59 5AB, UK
  • 2School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Wales, LL57 2UW, UK
  • 3RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG79 2DL, UK
  • 4RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, RSPB Scotland, Etive House, Beechwood Park, Inverness, IV2 3BW Scotland, UK
  • 5RSPB, unit 14 Llys Castan, Ffordd y Parc, Parc Menai, Bangor, LL57 4FH, UK

Abstract. Small GPS trackers are now routinely used to study the movement and behaviour of birds at sea. If the birds rest on the water they become drifters of opportunity and can be used to give information about surface currents. In this paper, we use a small data set from satellite-tracked razorbills (Alca torda) in the Irish Sea to test the potential of this idea for measuring tidal streams. Razorbills regularly rest on the sea overnight and their tracks at this time are consistent with them drifting with the tidal flows and changing direction as the flood turns to ebb. Data from four years (2011–2014 inclusive) have been binned in a geographical grid and analysed to give the variation of current speed over a mean tidal cycle in each grid element. A map of maximum current speed is consistent with a numerical model of the tidal currents in the region. The root-mean-square difference between observed maximum speed and that predicted by the model is 0.15ms−1, about 15% of typical current speeds in the area. The divergence between bird-track speed and model prediction increases in regions of fastest tidal streams. The method clearly has its limitations, but the results of this study show that tagged birds resting on the sea have great potential for providing relatively inexpensive quantitative information about surface tidal currents over an extended geographical area.

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Short summary
This paper describes a feasibility study carried out to determine if information gathered for one discipline could be re-purposed to provide insight in another. Data gathered during a study of bird distribution was used to investigate whether this same data could be used to measure tidal current velocities and direction. The paper concludes that there is a potential to use GPS tagged birds as Drifters of Opportunity and that interdisciplinary sharing of data can provide additional insight.
This paper describes a feasibility study carried out to determine if information gathered for...