Antarctica

RV Polarstern

Between December 2014 and February 2015, Anton Van de Putte, science officer at RBINS and researcher at University of Leuven, travelled with a research team on board the German research vessel RV Polarstern. The international team tries to obtain a better understanding of the role of sea ice in the ecosystem of the Antarctic, from top to bottom. Anton contributes to the Antarctic biodiversity portal. This portal enables researchers to discover Antarctic biodiversity data and also to make this data available to others. In this way the portal contributes to such global biodiversity initiatives as OBIS (Ocean Biogeographic Information System) and GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility). Anton is also involved in the vERSO research project financed by Belspo. This cooperative research project between six Belgian research partners is studying the impact of climate change on the bottom ecosystems in the Antarctic. Research will focus on connectivity and the adaptation of populations, trophic ecology and the resistance of organisms, populations and ecosystems.

A number of studies were carried out on board the German research vessel Polarstern. Colleagues from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are working on the Sea Ice Physics and Ecology Study (SIPES). This interdisciplinary team is looking at the link between the physical characteristics of sea ice, the biology of sea ice, the ocean and the principal predators at the top of this ecosystem. The study aims to profile a section of the marine ecosystem: from the air to the depths of the Southern Ocean, from algae to seals, birds and whales. 

Antarctica

Firstly, the scientists want to understand how the physical characteristics of the sea ice shape the sea ice habitat. Particular attention will focus on the optical characteristics of the sea ice and how light that passes through the ice gives the algae the necessary energy to develop and to form the basis of the variety of fauna found beneath the sea ice. Organisms found on the water surface and just beneath the ice will be sampled using a SUIT net (Surface and UnderIce Trawl). This net was developed by the Dutch partners and has already been used successfully on several occasions. The net is also fitted with a set of sensors to make biological and environmental readings.

To investigate the composition of species communities at greater depths, a multi-RMT-net (Rectangular Midwater trawl) and echo sounder will be used. A multi-RMT is a combination of three nets opened separately from the vessel and then closed again so that samples can be taken from different depths. The echo sounder is incorporated at the bottom of the ship’s hull and sends sound signals to the seabed. Objects or animals reflect the signal back and it is received by the ship. By measuring the difference in time it takes for the sound signal to be sent back to the vessel, scientists are able to form a picture of how the zooplankton and fish are distributed in the water at depths of between 0 and 1,000 metres. The number of flying and swimming birds and marine mammals such as seals and whales will be counted.

Anton’s task is to see how the data they collect can be effectively compiled. In this way, in the future it will be possible to easily exchange the data with other researchers using the Antarctic biodiversity portal, for example.

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