“Polarstern” is currently anchored right next to the ice shelf, which is formed by layers and layers of snow accumulated over thousands of years forming a vertical cliff dropping more than 30m to the sea (surface). Fuel and other goods are being discharged to supply Germany’s Neumayer station in Antarctica. At longitude 8°48' west, this part of East Antarctica’s ice cap is considered stable. The complete opposite is true for the Antarctic Peninsula heading towards the southern tip of South America. This area will form the backdrop for a scientific mission of an expedition that started two weeks ago in Cape Town. During the past 15 years atmospheric warming led to the collapse of major parts of the Larsen A and B ice shelves. These areas together made up only one percent of Antarctica’s floating but land-fast ice masses. It is the first opportunity that large-scale ecological investigations can be conducted in such a unique ecosystem. Due to the slow growth in Antarctic animals, these communities probably look the same as they did when the ice shelf was hundreds of meters thick.
This work is an essential contribution to the “Census of Antarctic Marine Life”, one of the IPY-core projects . The objectives stretch from bacteria to whales. Besides conventional sampling devices, research will also be facilitated by a remotely operated vehicle and helicopters. The scientific team around chief scientist Dr Julian Gutt from the Alfred Wegener Institute will attempt to answer some of the following questions: How do such biological systems work? Are there unknown forms of life? What influence did the calving of hundreds of icebergs have on animals on the sea floor? Are there first signs of a biodiversity-change? Is it possible to predict the future of such fauna using computer models? Recently an US American team around Prof Eugene Domack discovered bacterial communities, which are independent of sunlight, can we confirm these observations by specific sampling?
The second main objective of the expedition is the contribution to research within the frame work of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) which also has a strong linkage to the IPY. The first priority will be the stock assessment of widespread fish species around Elephant Island, the South Shetland Islands and Joinville Island. Dr Karl-Hermann Kock and his colleagues will attempt to assess the recovery of fish populations after the ban of commercial fisheries as well as how natural and anthropogenic changes in the environment impact Antarctic fish stocks. These rather different but complementing programs bring together 53 scientists from 14 different countries during this expedition on the R/V „Polarstern“. The scientific program will start in approximately ten days time and will finish upon arrival in Punta Arenas, Chile at the end of January.
Text is today from Dr. Julian Gutt, scientific leader of the Polarstern expedition ANT XXIII-8.
What is IPY
Tuesday, 12 December 2006 08:06
Polarstern: Mission reportWritten by Polarstern Expedition
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