Lo­cal crew gear up for crit­i­cal marine study

Cape Times - - NEWS - Mawabo Mahlaza

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.

Pic­ture: Joachim Ploetz, Al­fred We­gener In­sti­tutes

BIO­DI­VER­SITY: Ele­phant seals and king pen­guins on the beach at Try­pot Beach on Mar­ion Is­land in the south­ern In­dian Ocean.

SARAH FAWCETT

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