Local crew gear up for critical marine study
A TEAM of more than 50 scientists from South Africa and abroad will embark on a journey to Marion Island aboard Russian research ship Akademik Tryoshnikov to study plankton later this year.
This will be the first Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition of the research journey, which starts from Bremerhaven, Germany, on November 20 and arrives in Cape Town 25 days later.
UCT oceanographer Sarah Fawcett said the ship will leave Cape Town on December 20 and the study covers everything from biodiversity and whales to bird life, interaction between winds, waves, currents and ice and the problems caused by plastic pollution.
The research will use a pair of nets valued at R250 000 that will be towed by the ship to scoop plankton and store it until it comes back to Cape Town in March 2017.
The scientists hope that the study will help them understand why there is not more life in the nutrient-rich Southern Ocean.
In this voyage, which was conceived by the Swiss Polar Institute and funded by Swedish billionaire Frederik Paulsen, the South Africans are involved in several of 22 projects. Fawcett will lead a local team that includes Tommy Bornman, a marine researcher from the South African Environmental Observation Network in Port Elizabeth.
She said the findings of the study should help explain why the Southern Ocean did not remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere thereby aiding the understanding of the Antarctic’s role in world climate.
“The future of the Earth’s poles is critical. In coming decades, major international negotiations will focus on the polar regions, which are bearing the brunt of global warming.”
Bornman said they would be taking samples around the clock during the first leg of the voyage to Tasmania through the Antarctic Circumpolar current.
“Once a day the ship will stop and samples will be collected at depths of in excess of 4 000m, an operation that will take at least four hours.”
Stephanie de Villiers from the Department of Environmental Affairs, oceans and coasts unit, who is on standby in case another team member drops out, said the Southern Ocean has exceptionally high productivity. “But the question is why is it not higher?” De Villiers said.
BIODIVERSITY: Elephant seals and king penguins on the beach at Trypot Beach on Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean.