The marine biologist, Emilio Alarcón, has the objective of collecting water samples for later analysis in the laboratory. The data that he manages to obtain will contribute to the generation of knowledge about the unknown Southern Ocean.

Since 1964, Chile has carried out the Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA.) Due to the extreme climatic conditions that are experienced during the autumn and winter period in the white continent, this initiative had only been developed in spring and summer.

In an unprecedented way, the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) launched a scientific campaign in autumn and winter, which has allowed for the first time that two researchers from national institutions meet at the Professor Julio Escudero base, on King George Island. Emilio Alarcón, a marine biologist at the Dynamic Research Center for High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) and the Ecosystem Research Center of Patagonia (CIEP), is one of them.

Alarcón’s job is to monitor environmental variables in the Fildes Bay coastal system. His work consists of measuring the acidity of seawater (pH,) in addition to collecting surface water samples for later analysis of total alkalinity, nutrient concentration and chlorophyll concentration. “The idea is to record the biogeochemical processes that occur in the coastal ocean during the formation and advance of sea ice in the Antarctic Peninsula, using this area as a reference site,” he explained.

“The Southern Ocean plays a fundamental role in global climate, mainly by absorbing much of the atmospheric heat and excess CO2 of anthropogenic origin”, says Emilio Alarcón.

The researcher explained that the Southern Ocean is probably one of the least sampled oceans on the planet, despite its importance. This is mainly due to the remoteness of the site, how expensive it is to maintain scientific personnel and equipment, and the harsh climatic conditions of its waters, particularly during autumn/winter where the coldest and windiest conditions of the year can occur.

“For this reason, it is urgent to obtain data throughout the year and, above all, during the least sampled periods, in order to ‘feed’ climate models and have greater certainty of future scenarios due to climate change,” said Alarcón.

Alarcón hopes that this stay during the winter period will be the initial kick for the country to begin a long-term monitoring program in coastal areas such as the Antarctic Peninsula, a place on the planet where great effects of climate change have been seen. “The Southern Ocean plays a fundamental role in global climate, mainly by absorbing much of the atmospheric heat and excess CO2 of anthropogenic origin. Monitoring this area by generating long-term time series should be a priority if we want to understand the changes that the planet is undergoing,” he added.

The professional will be at the Professor Julio Escudero base (currently managed by the Chilean Navy) until June, the month in which a replacement of researchers will be carried out to continue with the Antarctic scientific work during 2022