The research work analyzes for four years the effect of environmental variables on microorganisms that are considered key in the biodiversity of the territory.
Daniela Jofré, IDEAL Center. Climate change has particularly affected the marine ecosystems of Antarctica, a complex scenario where the scientific community has placed emphasis on studying how these organisms, adapted to very specific environmental conditions, respond.
During the spring-summer periods, Antarctic ecosystems suffer strong environmental variations, however, information on this transition and how it affects organisms is scarce. For this reason, a team of researchers set out to monitor how the phytoplankton community (species considered the base of the food chain of aquatic ecosystems) acts in this area during the summer season and how this influences the ocean-atmosphere exchange of certain gases.
In this first phase of the project, the work team managed to keep a record of thirteen samplings in a period of six weeks in the vicinity of the Bellingshausen Glacier, King George Island in Antarctica, as part of a new Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA,) organized by the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACh). At the site, samples of plankton, chlorophyll, CO2 concentration and various environmental variables were collected.
“This is the first time we go in spring time. The idea is to go for a period of four years on the same dates to analyze the conditions of temperature, light and other environmental variables and how these changes affect the metabolism of the planktonic community,” explained Dr. Juan Höfer, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso (PUCV) and researcher at the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh).
The research aims to analyze these variables, because, as a result of the analyzes carried out, it will be possible to register if there is an increase or decrease in the diversity of the phytoplankton community.
The researcher commented on the abrupt increase in temperature during this period, going from 0.5 degrees Celsius to more than 2°C in just five weeks. “During the last week it was possible to record an increase in phytoplankton and chlorophyll in the water. The fluorescence recorded by the CTD – oceanographic equipment that measures salinity, temperature and depth – tripled and the characteristic odor of algae could even be felt in the environment.”
The increase in these values not only affects microorganisms. At a higher temperature, explained the scientist, the surface waters are “eating away” the Antarctic marine glaciers from below. “The effect of a one degree rise in Antarctic waters is not something you see immediately or with the naked eye, but it has a considerable influence on the glaciers there,” Dr. Höfer said.
The conditions of a pandemic, added to the climatic and logistical difficulties of the Antarctic territory, made this first stage of research difficult. However, the study will last four years, so it is expected to increase the number of scientists in the field, places sampled and analyzes to be carried out.