The equipment acquired by the IDEAL Center will contribute to filling an information gap on the appearance and characteristics of these organisms at high latitudes.
Phytoplankton is a key element in the food web of the world’s aquatic ecosystems, since it sustains larger species, which depend on its biomass. However, its importance also lies in the oxygen production, since 50% of what we breathe is produced by these organisms. Given this scenario, the scientific community seeks to constantly monitor the changes that phytoplankton undergoes, mainly in a context of climate change.
For some decades now, satellite sensors have made it possible to record observational data with high spatial (hundreds of kilometers) and temporal (decades) resolution of the evolution and dynamics of phytoplankton on the ocean surface. Currently, thanks to technological advances, these instruments have a greater capacity for analysis, detecting more specific parameters, such as the structure of the phytoplankton community and/or its composition by functional groups.
Despite having these systems, it is necessary to complement the records with much more detailed field measurements, especially of the optical properties of the components present in the water column.
For this reason, the IDEAL Center of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) recently acquired an advanced light sensor (RAMSES hyperspectral radiometer), which will allow obtaining irradiance profiles through the column of water in Chilean Patagonia and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Measurements obtained by this instrument will be used to record the bio-optical properties of water in highly complex coastal areas, given their difficult access and climatic conditions. In this way, these terrain data will complement the calibration of environmental satellite sensors that detect the color of the ocean on a regional scale.
“With this equipment, in addition to other measurements of the water column, we will be able to obtain specific bio-optical traces of the phytoplankton community at a local scale, and in particular, of some species that can generate toxins. The ultimate goal is to generate empirical relationships between biological and environmental variables, which are later used by the satellites. In this way, we will monitor HAB in the coastal areas of Patagonia,” commented Dr. Andrea Corredor-Acosta, a researcher at the IDEAL Center, who will be in charge of the hyperspectral radiometer.
“The use of this instrument will be of great importance for Chilean Patagonia: It will allow the study of Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB or red tides), and the effect of the accelerated melting of mountain glaciers, fjords and Antarctic bays, two problems that persist in the sea and that is associated with the effects of global warming in the atmosphere,” mentioned Dr. José Luis Iriarte, researcher at the IDEAL Center and academic at the UACh Institute of Aquaculture in Puerto Montt.
This new oceanographic instrument will be used in an upcoming scientific campaign developed by the IDEAL Center during the first semester of 2023. In addition, it will be launched in regular activities, such as time series installed in coastal areas of Punta Arenas and Antarctica.