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Polarstern heads for Antarctic
The German research ship Polarstern left Cape Town on 28 November on its 24th voyage to the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. On board the vessel are 53 scientists from eight nations who will carry out climate-related research in the framework of the International Polar Year (IPY). Elsewhere in the Antarctic, researchers from the ANDRILL project are hailing their second season of drilling beneath the sea floor as a great success.
During the ten-week expedition, the Polarstern's researchers will study ocean currents and biodiversity in the Lazarev Sea and the eastern part of the Weddell Sea. 'Our research projects will improve the understanding of physical and biological processes associated with the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Weddell Gyre, both of which play a key role for the Earth's climate,' explained chief scientist Professor Ulrich Bathmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.
The researchers will focus their efforts on three IPY projects: SCACE ('Synoptic Circum-Antarctic climate and ecosystem study'), LAKRIS ('Lazarev Sea krill study') and ANDEEP-SYSTCO ('Antarctic benthic deep-sea biodiversity: colonisation history and recent community patterns - system coupling').
As its name suggests, the SCACE project involves the study of the physical and biological interrelations in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This massive current surrounds the entire Antarctic continent and connects all large oceans.
'This large ocean current transports both heat energy and fresh water, plays a central role in the ocean-wide cycles of dissolved material and contains a series of distinct ecosystems that may displace each other with changing climate regimes,' said Professor Bathmann. 'Plankton algae involved have a high potential for absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide.' The Southern Ocean is particularly sensitive to climate change, and the data collected by the SCACE team will serve as a useful benchmark for quantifying future changes.
The LAKRIS project concerns the tiny shrimp-like creatures called krill. The scientists will investigate the life cycle, distribution and physiology of the krill populations in the Lazarev Sea. Of particular interest to the researchers is krill's ability to adapt to potential environmental changes.
The deep sea around Antarctica is the focus of the third project, ANDEEP-SYSTCO. This project will see researchers investigate the interactions between the atmosphere, the water column and the sea floor, several thousand metres down.
'Since deep sea research continues to take us to unknown worlds, we are expecting some new and fascinating insights regarding biological diversity in the ocean, perhaps even the discovery of previously unknown species,' commented Professor Bathmann. The ANDEEP-SYSTCO project will be led by Professor Angelika Brandt of the University of Hamburg. Earlier this year she was part of a team which revealed the high levels of diversity found in the depths of the Southern Ocean in an article in the journal Nature. That work was also based on research carried out on board the Polarstern.
Elsewhere in the Antarctic, the second drilling season of the ANDRILL (Antarctic geological Drilling) project is coming to an end. According to scientists from the international project, it has 'exceeded all expectations'.
So far, the drilling team has pulled a rock core over 1,000 metres long from the sea floor in McMurdo Sound, making it the second-deepest rock core drilled in Antarctica. The goal of this year's drilling was to retrieve sediment dating from the Miocene Epoch. Between 17 and 14 millions years ago, the Earth passed from a warm climate to a much cooler climate. At this time, a quasi-permanent ice sheet formed on East Antarctica.
'It's everything we hoped for,' said David Harwood of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln of the new core. 'Combine the drill hole we recovered last year with this one, from a time period right below it, and it's more than two kilometres of geological history. It's phenomenal what we've recovered. There's a lot of diversity in the core, indeed more than we can digest right now. It will take some time to fully resolve the palaeo-environmental and dynamic palaeo-climate information in the core.'
'We now have a more complete core record from the middle Miocene and a step into a cooler period of time, and that was one of our key targets,' said Fabio Florindo of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. 'It will tell an important story when we put together our recovery with the record of last season. This is exciting science and it will echo loudly in the scientific community.'
The core sections will be analysed briefly in the Antarctic before being shipped to Florida State University's Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility for storage and long-term study.
Contact person:For more information, please visit:
Alfred Wegener Institute: http://www.awi.de
International Polar Year: http://www.ipy.org
Data Source Provider:Alfred Wegener Institute and ANDRILL project
Document of reference:Based on information from the Alfred Wegener Institute and ANDRILL project
Subject index:Climate change & Carbon cycle research,Coordination, Cooperation,Earth Sciences,Environmental Protection,Scientific Research,Resources of the Sea, Fisheries
Related News: Scientists drill their way to past climate data
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