For the first time in Chile, the recently created, Research Center Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) will investigate the oceanic zone of the region of Magallanes and Antarctic Peninsula to measure the changes in productivity in those ecosystems and their social implications for the coastal communities.

It is known that the temperature in some regions of Antarctica, has increased, that the ice shelves have melted and that krill populations fluctuated. However, what remains unknown, is how can climate change and human activity impact all of the trophic chain that sustains the richness and biodiversity of the Magallanes and Antarctic seas. As per Dr. Humberto Gonzalez, director of the IDEAL Center, “These two regions are of great importance to the country and the planet. Not only for being very influential to the global climate and one of the largest freshwater reserves of the world, but because it is an area with abundant marine resources, many of which, have an unknown commercial potential. Therefore, our objective, for the next five years, is to model all of the information gathered under the sea and integrate the results, so that they can tell us what is changing”.

 The newly opened Research Center Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL), is financed by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT), through their Fondap program, and is led by the University Austral of Chile (UACH).  Integrating this center, as well, are the University of Concepcion,   the Center for Quaternary Studies, Fuego-Patagonia and Antarctica (CEQUA) of Punta Arenas and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Investigations (AWI) of Germany. The logistical support, to develop  Antarctic investigations, is given by the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) .

Even though there have been previous national investigations regarding the coastal border and superficial waters in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic zones, this is the first multidisciplinary national study in exploring pelagic ecosystems and how they respond to global change and the productivity of their dominant species.

“The IDEAL CENTER represents a great milestone for CONICYT and for Chile, as it opens new perspectives in the extraordinary investigation of Antarctica, a natural laboratory, with which we are privileged. We are promoting an ambitious scientific endeavor, which would not be possible to do with conventional sources of financing. With that, we are expanding the possibilities of a grand number of investigators that can extend their work and advance significantly in their results, for a longer period of time and with more resources, as pointed out by the Executive director of Conicyt, Christian Nicolai.

For INACH, this initiative represents an important challenge. As per its Director, Jose Retamales, ” Until recently, Chile has been in debt with Antarctica, both in the field of Marine Sciences and Glaciology. Now, thanks to the infrastructure that we have  developed, both in land and at sea, we will be able to support this important project”.

The IDEAL Center also has an important national and international collaboration network, that includes the University of Magallanes (UMAG),  the Center for Research in Ecosystems of the Patagonia (CIEP) of Coyhaique, and the South Austral Basal program COPAS, the Interdisciplinary Center for Aquatic Investigation (INCAR),  the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA). Center for Climate Science and Resiliency (CR2), Center for Coastal Oceanography (CCPO) of the Old Dominion University,  The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California and the Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), as well as international organizations linked to Antarctic investigations, such as, the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), among others.

Antarctic Science

With an interdisciplinary team of 25 scientists, the new center will develop five investigation programs closely related to one another. It will study how marine systems and organisms respond to alterations in temperature, salinity and water acidification, as well as other variables, as a result of global change. How these effects will alter the communities that live in the water column (plankton), as well as those that inhabit at the bottom of the sea (benthos). At the center, the changes in past and present productivity of these marine systems will also be analyzed.

One of the first activities performed at the Ideal Center, was the sample taking of oceanic sediment in the Drake Passage and Cape Horn, through the “Paleo-Drake” expedition in the icebreaker Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener Institute.

 One of the particularities of this new center of investigation is the human dimension.  “70% of the worlds population live in coastal areas, therefore, we can´t ignore, what is occurring in marine ecosystems and that it will also affect the population that live off them”, as pointed out by Dra. Laura Nahuelhual, principal investigator of the IDEAL Center. She and her team will study how global change will affect the provision of goods and services, that marine ecosystems give to people and that they contribute to their wellbeing, such as, the supply of food and raw materials, recreational opportunities, identity and a sense of belonging in Magallanes and Antarctica.

The IDEAL Center just finished inaugurating its base of operations in Punta Arenas and hopes to be an important contribution to regional development. “We want to contribute in positioning the region of Magallanes and Antarctic Peninsula as a great natural laboratory of global importance, making this region and country, leaders of Antarctic investigation” concluded Gonzalez.