Antarctic algae under the microscope in Southern Ocean research program

[Australia] How algae grows under sea ice and the implications for marine food chains is one of the areas of research in the latest Antarctic expedition.

Final preparations are underway in Hobart for the beginning of Australia’s Antarctic summer season.

The Aurora Australis sets sail on Thursday for Davis station for the first time since March with over 100 crew on board, including scientists, maintenance and resupply crew, before scientists undertake new research on ice algae.

A remote-operated underwater vehicle (ROV) will be deployed under fast ice — sea ice still attached to land — for the first time in order to study how the algae grows.

The ROV data will help researchers understand how ice algae growth is affected by different ice and snow conditions, as well as light penetration.

It will also map the location and distribution of the algae, which will give researchers and scientists a more complete picture of the Antarctic ecosystem.

Through this, foraging habits of predators further up the food chain can be analysed.

Sea ice ecologist Klaus Meiners said his team’s research was something very new.

“There’s not much information on what’s going on under the ice and there’s not that much research done on the coastal ecosystem,” he said.

The new technology will be more accurate and can gather information much more quickly, according to Dr Meiners.

“For example, in the past, if you take an ice core, it takes half an hour, and you probably spend an afternoon in the lab,” he said.

“You get similar amounts in two minutes from the ROV.”

Australia is collaborating with 28 countries this season, on over 90 separate projects.

Operations manager Rob Clifton said weather conditions should allow for a relatively easy journey.

“The weather we’re expecting on the way will no doubt be the usual southern ocean weather,” he said.

It is the first of four voyages the Aurora Australis will make this summer.

 

Photo: The remote-operated underwater vehicle will be deployed under ice still attached to land to study how the algae grows. Supplied: AAD

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