Setting new baselines in the southern seas

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Setting new baselines in the southern seas

While most New Zealanders were settling into their summer break, some scientists were double-checking their survival gear before heading to work deep in the Southern Ocean.

Break out the short sleeves. The 40-strong team of researchers and crew mark another successful scientific expedition which netted more than 4700 samples, 33 hours of video and in excess of 8000 images of life on the southern seabed. [Photo: Dave Bowden]

NIWA’s deepwater research vessel Tangaroa, set off early in January for a six-week trip to Antarctica, sailing as far south as 76° 30’ – just 30km short of Tangaroa’s southernmost voyage.

Working amongst ice floes, strong winds and heavy swells, the 21 New Zealand and international scientists and 19 crew faced a daunting research schedule. Their primary focus was setting up long-term monitoring programmes for the newly-created Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Data collected by Tangaroa’s scientists covered whale, fish and plankton abundance, seabed samples and oceanographic and atmospheric conditions. It will provide the crucial baselines needed to assess the MPA’s future impact.

“New Zealand has a commitment to playing a leading role in monitoring the MPA, and this voyage is a key contribution,” says voyage leader and NIWA Principal Scientist Dr Richard O’Driscoll.

“Data collected on the voyage will also build New Zealand’s reputation for research into atmosphere and ocean circulation processes.”

First Mate Ian Popenhagen keeps a watchful eye for ice as Tangaroa sails deep into a deceptively benign Ross Sea. The 11,800km voyage took Tangaroa just 30km shy of the furthest south it has ever been. [Photo: Dave Bowden]

‘Bongo’ nets can be deployed as deep as 1000m, enabling researchers to build a detailed picture of the rich range of plankton found in Antarctic waters. [Photo: Dave Bowden]

Fisheries scientists Peter McMillan and Pablo Escobar-Flores examining lantern fish in the wetlab. The deepsea species is named for the underwater glow produced by organs along their body. [Photo: Dave Bowden]

A sea spider or pycnogonid. Carnivorous marine predators and scavengers, Antarctic sea spiders are amongst the largest found world-wide, with a leg span of more than 20cm. [Photo: Rob Stewart]

Light shines cobalt blue through the fractures of a Ross Sea iceberg. Despite voyaging so far south, the crew reported a relative lack of sea ice and icebergs compared with earlier expeditions. [Photo: Olivia Price]

Research subject: Antarctica