This Season's Science
Seismic Survey at Siple Coast
K001-B Event Summary
We will carry out a seismic survey of the Ross Ice Shelf and underlying geology near the grounding line of the Kamb ice stream. The Kamb flows off the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which is thought to be vulnerable to collapse in a warmer world – with consequences for global sea level. We want to identify suitable targets for future drilling that will allow us to study how stable this ice sheet was when Earth was warmer than today, so we can improve our predictive capability.
Our seismic surveys involves using half a tonne of high explosives (not all at once though!) to send waves of energy through the ice down into the sediment beneath. By measuring these waves as they bounce back and return up to the ice surface, we can learn about the properties of the ice and sediment deposits.
Sampling on David Glacier
K001-D Event Summary
Antarctic outlet glaciers can act as giant taps that control ice flow between the ice sheet interior and the coast. If the taps are opened, Antarctica may experience rapid, irreversible ice loss in coming centuries, resulting in greater-than-anticipated sea-level rise. From satellite images we have observations of these glaciers for only the past 50 years, making it difficult to predict how they will behave in a warming climate. Using a new geological dating technique, we can provide a link with satellite observations that will allow us to better understand how these glaciers will behave in the future.
Understanding the processes that cause Antarctic ice sheet retreat over timescales of centuries to millennia will inform predictions about the on-going response of ice sheets to climate change and resultant sea-level rise.
Understanding Local Weather
K058 Event Summary
We aim to collect meteorological data on board of remotely piloted balloons - these are semi-controlled aerial systems that can free-float with the airflow for several days crossing terrain, sea ice, and open waters. They are remotely controlled from Christchurch and Northampton over the internet and satellite communications and can fly up to 1.5 km above ground level covering a very wide volume of the Ross Sea region.
The knowledge produced from this research will be useful for immediate weather forecasting and for creating past and future high resolution regional climate datasets that will provide a really valuable resource for scientists studying all sorts of things - from sea ice to marine life - in this part of Antarctica. Weather has a huge influence on Antarctic life and ecosystems, particularly in coastal areas which will be among the first to experience the effects of climate change.
Ross Ice Shelf Programme
K061 Event Summary
We aim to understand the impact of climate change on the Ross Ice Shelf. This season we will drill a hole through the ice shelf in order to study the ocean below, using a range of instruments and a remotely operated submersible vehicle.
As climate warms, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will retreat, sea level will rise, sea ice extent will change, and the circulation of both the ocean and atmosphere will be modified. The Ross Ice Shelf protects the big West Antarctic Ice Sheet from the relatively ‘warm ocean’ which has the capability of destabilizing the ice sheet; our work will help determine the rate at which the Ross Ice Shelf will respond to warming in the ocean and atmosphere.
Measuring Sea Ice in Winter
K063 Event Summary
A “mass balance” station will be established on the sea ice of McMurdo Sound in July 2017. A hole will be drilled through 1m thick ice and a temperature probe will be inserted through the ice and into the ocean in order to measure ice and ocean temperature. An acoustic sensor will record the thickness of the snow on top of the sea ice. The data will be transmitted to New Zealand on a daily basis and interpreted to help us to understand how sea ice forms throughout winter
Measuring Sea Ice Thickness
K066 Event Summary
We want to better understand the influence of ice shelves on sea ice formation and persistence. To achieve this, we will map snow and sea ice thickness in the western Ross Sea from the air using an electromagnetic device (the EM Bird) strapped beneath an aircraft. We will also be taking measurements from the surface of the ice using a similar device towed by skidoo.
The results of this project will ultimately lead to improvements in the predictions of future climate for New Zealand. Antarctic sea ice is a key element in the global climate system; its presence maintains cold conditions that help sustain Antarctica’s ice sheets, it modifies storms in the Southern Hemisphere, and it affects the rate of global warming by influencing ocean heat uptake in the Southern Ocean.
Sea Ice Platelet Crystals
K131 Event Summary
We are focused on understanding how sea ice interacts with the upper ocean, which is particularly complicated when there is a thick accumulation of platelet ice crystals between the two. Working out of a remote camp on the sea ice, we will drive to several sites, drill holes through the sea ice and then lower instruments through into the ocean. We will come away with a far greater appreciation of how melt from the nearby Ross Ice Shelf affects the sea ice of southern McMurdo Sound.
This work will contribute to understanding two of the most significant questions in climate science today: Why has Antarctic sea ice been expanding when it forms in an ocean that we know is warming, and what are the processes and time-scales involved in the retreat and/or collapse of the Antarctic ice shelves?
Risk Assessment of Dry Valley Ecosystems
K020 Event Summary
We will be working in the McMurdo Dry Valleys to improve our knowledge and understanding of these ecosystems. Although a consensus exists internationally that Antarctica is vulnerable to invasive species, climate change, and increasing human presence and activity, there is a lack of objective measures that facilitate evidence-based environmental management and clearly articulated conservation goals.
K020 will inform and enhance direct engagement with primary end users, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Conservation and Antarctica New Zealand, to ensure implementation of research outputs.
Surveillance of Sea-Ice Microbial Communities
K043 Event Summary
Sea ice supports a unique microorganisms that form the basic food supply for Antarctic coastal food-webs. We will install instruments on the underside of sea ice to track the state and health of the microbial communities that live there; an array of micro-sensors will help us to figure out how much expected environmental changes, like thinning sea ice and more snow, will affect these unusual communities, and to what extent they can adapt.
This project will contribute to our understanding of ecosystem stability in the Southern Ocean. Sea-ice microbes form the all-important base of the Southern Ocean ecosystem; because krill graze on microbes living in the ice, less ice implies less krill – and any reduction in krill has major implications for fish, penguins, and baleen whales.
The Social Production of Science in Antarctica
K056 Event Summary
We will examine the research practises of Antarctic scientists, and their cultures of knowledge production, through a systematic study of Antarctic science events. To this end, we will be joining K020 as participant observers. We will try to understand how Antarctic scientists relate to each other in the field, how the environment and materials shape their work and how science support in the field could be optimized to best serve the science teams and society.
Resilience in Freshwater Ecosystems
K080-B Event Summary
Antarctic lakes and ponds are home to some of the most spectacular microbial ecosystems on the planet. Environmental change is affecting the habitats in which these communities grow and we will conduct a series of investigations that will assess their ability to survive these changes. We will carry out an experiment to determine how rising water levels caused by accelerating glacier melt are affecting the unique microbial communities of Lake Fryxell. We’ll then look at microbial mats that live in ponds on the McMurdo Ice shelf to determine their resilience to changes in ice cover and water level.
We will be diving through a hole in 5 m thick ice to access the waters of Lake Fryxell to focus on the microbial systems that are found in Antarctic lakes and ponds, where the absence of more complex plants and animals allows them to form complex communities that are like no others on earth.
Resilience in Terrestrial Ecosystems
K080-C Event Summary
The ability of ecosystems to endure changes in their environment depends on their resilience. We are focused on the resilience of a range of terrestrial ecosystems in order to gain knowledge that will underpin future management and monitoring decisions.
This season we will work from Granite Harbour, New Harbour, and other areas in the Taylor Valley, sampling and making physiological measurements of soil microbes, plants and springtails. We will work along gradients in water and nutrient availability that exist as you move away from lakes and will perform temperature manipulation experiments that will emulate current climate change predictions.
Human Impacts on Terrestrial Environments
K123 Event Summary
We are trying to understand the environmental pressures that are being placed on the unique ice-free landscape of the Ross Sea region. We will work in the Dry Valleys to examine the different soil types and their fragility, focusing on the scale and impacts that scientists and tourists have on these areas.
Our goals are to understand and map the soils, visualise and model the historic and future level of human activity, inform the development of a continental scale geological map and the monitor soil climate. This research will enable Antarctica New Zealand and other national operators to improve the reporting, monitoring and management of the region.
Terrestrial Ecosystems of Northern Victoria Land
K812-B Event Summary
We will be working with the Korean Programme to obtain data that will allow us to detect changes in the terrestrial ecosystem that are linked to a changing climate in the future. We will focus on soils, microbes, mosses and lichens, and will be looking in particular for changes in the biological communities along gradients in the physical environment (e.g. water availability). A key focus is the influence of penguin colonies on the microbial and plant communities near each colony due to the inputs of nutrients from penguin guano.
Our research is important to New Zealand because it will address questions of vulnerability of Antarctica and its ecosystems as the globe warms as well as the flow on effects to lower latitude oceans and climate, particularly New Zealand. It will also help underpin New Zealand’s aspiration to establish and maintain a Marine Protected Area in the Ross Sea.
Whales, Toothfish, and Marine Protection
K070 Event Summary
We are studying Antarctic killer whales, specifically Type C killer whales or ‘Charleys’. Charleys eat fish and are particularly keen on a large, high-fat fish unique to the Southern Ocean – the Antarctic toothfish.
We will collect photographs of whales to identify individuals and characterise the whale population, collect dart biopsies to investigate diet and relatedness, and record vocalisations and behaviour using underwater recorders. Results from this research will contribute to supporting conservation and the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area.
Resilience in Marine Ecosystems
K080-A Event Summary
It is predicted that coastal marine environments are to become warmer, more acidic and less productive in the future. We aim to determine whether and how Antarctic marine life will cope with these changes.
Our team of scientific divers will dive beneath the sea ice, armed with underwater cameras and specialised sampling gear, to explore the biodiversity of the seafloor. Experiments will be conducted on these unique seafloor organisms and ecological communities to better understand their resilience to altered environmental conditions linked to climate change.
Marine Ecosystems of Northern Victoria Land
K812-A Event Summary
Along with the Korean Programme, we will set up a programme of long term research into the dynamics of inshore marine ecosystems in the Ross Sea, against which the effects of anticipated climate-induced change can be measured. The ultimate goal of this programme is to detect changes in the marine ecosystem in the long term that are linked to a changing climate. We will use remote video, underwater vehicles and divers to describe the communities on the seafloor. The monitoring scheme will supplement and test our models of how marine ecosystems will respond to anticipated environmental changes.
Ocean Monitoring Programme
K812-C Event Summary
We will be working from the Korean research vessel RV Araon to examine the interaction between the ice and the ocean underneath floating ice shelves and tongues. We will be making measurements of physical oceanography including salinity and temperature, and using these to better understand ocean circulation processes from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf along the western Ross Sea.
Kiwi scientists will join this vessel from Lyttleton, and sail on a return voyage to the Ross Sea; the research vessel conducts science around the world, and services the Korean stations in the Arctic, Ross Sea, and Antarctic Peninsula.