At South Bay on Doumer Island (Antarctica) a team of Chilean scientists installed a pH sensor, an oceanographic instrument to be used to study one of the most conspicuous effects of climate change at the White Continent.
Andrea Navarro, from Yelcho Station in Antarctica. A group of Chilean oceanographers achieved a new milestone in the national science effort: the installation of a monitoring system in Antarctica for the study of ocean acidification, a process that results in the lowering of pH in the oceans due to an increase in absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
This effort involved scientists from the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) at the Austral University of Chile (UACh), as a part of the 55th Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA). The researchers submerged the latest-generation sensor at South Bay on Doumer Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula. The equipment, imported from the United States, was carried aboard the scientific vessel “Karpuj” belonging to the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH). The device was lowered into water 30 meters deep, together with other oceanographic instrumentation.
This sensor will supply data every three hours for the period of one year, which will allow researchers to better understand the coastal marine ecosystems of Antarctica. The high resolution recordings will help in characterizing the chemical variations of the waters and the associated biological and physical processes. At the same time, the information could be used for future analysis for proposals for an Antarctic marine protected area where Chile and Argentina are working.
The operation was carried out in South Bay since this coastal area is representative of Antarctica, having glacial influence as well as a high degree of marine productivity, characteristics considered ideal for the installation of a monitoring system.
The studies carried out by these Chilean researchers are particularly relevant in an environmental context where predictions related to global change indicate that the oceans will continue to acidify, and the Southern Ocean is not exempt from increases in global level atmospheric C02.
“Antarctica is one of the systems most susceptible to global warming and, therefore, it is essential to understand what is happening in the various zones. Reports about acidification of the oceans surrounding the White Continent are scarce, due to the logistical complexities involved in getting there,” explained marine biologist Emilio Alarcón, who participated in the installation of this monitoring system.
“This acidification could have great implications for organisms that live in the water column and on the ocean floor. When the pH decreases and acidification accelerates, the water is more corrosive and therefore, those marine species that need to calcify in early and adult stages, such as some molluscs, may find it difficult to acquire calcium carbonate from the water,” noted researcher Dr. José Luis Iriarte, leader of this study.
More sensors in Patagonia
The Chilean researchers will download the sensor data in February, 2020. Once analyzed, the results can be compared with those of similar studies conducted in the Arctic.
This group of scientists also installed two other similar monitoring systems in the Reloncaví fjord in the Lakes (Los Lagos) region of Chile, and at Whale Sound (Seno Ballena) in the Straits of Magellan. This will provide the researchers with a data gradient stretching southward from northern Patagonia, to determine a trend toward Antarctica