Marsden Success!

Erebus Glacier Al Chapman
26 November 2021

Antarctic science has received four Marsden Fund grants. And what variety! The secrets of snow and phytoplankton, molecular time capsules, the edge of human existence - we keep finding new frontiers.

Congratulations to:

Dr Ruzica Dadic (Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington) Can Snow Change the Fate of Antarctic Sea Ice?

Investigation of the physical properties of the snow covering sea ice, and how it influences sea ice growth, and energy fluxes between the ocean and the atmosphere.

A lack of data about the snow leads to two problems: biases in modelling and uncertainty in how sea ice influences the global energy budget (the balance of the Sun’s energy reaching Earth and the amount reflected back into space). A combination of field measurements and modelling will improve predictions about Antarctic sea ice in a warming climate, and give insight into how Antarctic and Arctic sea ice differ.

Dr Gert-Jan Jeunen (University of Otago) Molecular time-capsules of oceans past – reconstructing Antarctica’s marine ecosystems using historical environmental DNA from marine invertebrate collections

Investigating how Ross Sea biodiversity has changed over the past 70 years, using eDNA from historical and contemporary collections of marine filter feeders.

Marine filter feeding organisms accumulate eDNA (environmental DNA, which is the genetic material released to the environment by living things). Vast numbers of these filter feeders have been gathered from the Ross Sea and stored in scientific collections. These archives provide time-capsules of eDNA which will be compared with contemporary eDNA, giving insight into what has changed over time and the effects of industrialisation, bio-invasion and climate. Understanding historical change helps us to know how degraded marine systems might be restored.

Associate Professor Cilla Wehi (University of Otago) Kaitiakitanga and Antarctic narratives

Exploration of how kaitiakitanga (guardianship or management) operates at the edges of human experience, using Antarctica because of its remoteness, ephemeral human presence and lack of sovereign governance.

Māori concepts like kaitiakitanga highlight responsibilities to past, present and future generations, as well as connections to place. A team of philosophers, scientists and artists will examine relationships with the environment, and what leads transformation and wellbeing. The project will culminate in an exhibition about what Antarctica reveals about kaitiakitanga, and kaitiakitanga’s place as we reimagine human and planetary futures.

Dr Holly Winton(Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington) How did changing sea ice conditions impact primary production in the Ross Sea over the past 200 years?

Study of past variability of phytoplankton abundance in the Ross Sea, using novel ice core biomarkers of phytoplankton composition, habitat and productivity, supported by biogeochemical modelling.

These microscopic marine algae reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and fuel marine life in the Southern Ocean. The Ross Sea has seen dramatic, unexplained changes in sea ice conditions, but the impact on phytoplankton is largely unknown, mostly because of a lack of records. This project will extend observational records from 20 to 200 years, improving understanding of how phytoplankton will respond to a changing climate.

The Marsden Fund allocated $82m to 120 research projects; here’s the highlights and the full list of awards.