K882 ROV Control

The K882 team working out of their containerised camp on Ross Ice Shelf. Photo: Anthony Powell

February Update

28 February 2022

The creatures on the Ross Sea floor

Antarctic marine ecosystem inhabitants are amongst the most diverse and unique in the world – these seafloor animals have adapted to temperatures below the freezing point of freshwater.

This season a research team, led by Dr Vonda Cummings (NIWA), set out to learn more about the creatures living on the seafloor around the Ross Sea coastline.

This included taking images of the seafloor at several different places, collecting specimens of common animals, and deploying instruments that will help us better understand their environment.

The team used both very high tech and super simple techniques to gather data – from Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to fishing rods.

They were able to gather new biodiversity and environmental data from several coastal locations, including data on coastal currents and sea ice conditions. The new measurements will enable scientists to model what coastal Ross Sea ecosystems might look like in the coming decades, and how Antarctic coastal marine ecosystems might be affected by climate change.

A major achievement was to sample a depth range from 10-100 m deep for the first time, which extends sampling in this region beyond diving depths (<30 m).

K882 Probe Deployment

The team prepares the probe for deployment in their containerised camp on Ross Ice Shelf. Photo: Anthony Powell

IPCC impacts, adaptation and vulnerability report this week

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will this week release its landmark report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The report is deemed a ‘code red for humanity’, warning of the devasting effects of climate change and exploring adaptation options for cities and coastal communities.

On the Precipice: the climate change target humanity cannot afford to miss is a resource that explains the Antarctic science that sits behind the report. It describes the potential impacts of Antarctic ice sheet melt, and rising sea levels and temperatures, resulting from climate change.

We hope you find the report useful and would be grateful if you would share it with relevant colleagues, members and peers. You can access a web version here, On the Precipice / News and Events / Home - GNS Science. If you would prefer a printable, high resolution PDF copy, please email n.hawkey@gns.cri.nz

GNS Report Case Study A3 landscape3 1

Under-ice rivers and their role in future sea-level rise

Underneath Antarctica’s vast ice sheets there’s a network of rivers and lakes. This is possible because of the insulating blanket of ice above, the flow of heat from within the Earth, and the small amount of heat generated as the ice deforms.

Water lubricates the base of the ice sheets, allowing the ice to slide towards the ocean at speeds of many hundreds of metres per year. When the water emerges from beneath the ice, it enters a cold and salty cavity underneath ice shelves, the floating extensions of ice sheets that fringe the continent.

Here the water mixes, releases nutrients and sediment, and melts the underside of the ice shelves, which act as buttresses and hold back the flow of the ice sheets.

How these processes play out over the next centuries is a major factor in better understanding sea-level rise.

Since the field team’s return from Kamb Ice Stream, Assoc Prof Huw Horgan (Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington) and Assoc Prof Craig Stevens (University of Auckland/NIWA) published an article in The Conversation about the first direct survey of an Antarctic under-ice river.

On a related note, Antarctica New Zealand’s traverse team have successfully proved a route to the Crary Ice Rise en route back from Kamb Ice Stream. This new route will be used in the future to support the SWAIS 2C project.

Long term science: Landfast sea ice in McMurdo Sound

Antarctic sea ice plays a vital role in the Earth’s climate system by regulating the surface radiation balance - sea ice is many times more reflective than seawater - and modulating the heat exchange between the oceans and the atmosphere.

Each year the extent of Antarctic sea ice grows and shrinks, from a minimum of about 3 – 4 million square kilometres in February to about 17 – 20 million square kilometres at its peak in September.

Dr Greg Leonard (University of Otago) continued long-term research this season, providing observations of landfast sea ice in McMurdo Sound, which contributes to our efforts to understand how changing Antarctic sea ice conditions might affect the Earth’s climate.

This involved the installation of a sea ice mass balance station onto the sea ice during its annual growth season, which takes measurements to quantify the factors that govern the rate at which sea ice grows. Transects on McMurdo Sound sea ice are also regularly taken to measure the inter-annual variability in snow, sea ice and sub ice platelet layer thicknesses.

This season saw the first testing of a Cryosphere Innovation SIMB3 buoy in McMurdo Sound.

Sea ice mass balance station 2021 22 season Photo by Greg Leonard

In 2021/22 the sea ice mass balance station was located on first year sea ice, about 900m north of the McMurdo Ice Shelf edge. Mt Discovery and Brown Peninsula can be seen in the background. Photo: Greg Leonard

Australian Antarctic Division funding

The Australian Government last week outlined an $804.4 million investment over ten years to strengthen strategic and scientific capabilities in the region. Media coverage and analysis included these articles in the Conversation and Guardian.

Sub Antarctic flowers spreading

In a new Italian study, published in scientific journal Current Biology this month, researchers noticed a “striking” expansion in the population of two flowering Antarctic plants, which they say is the first evidence of climate change speeding up ecosystem shifts on the icy continent. Read it in The Guardian and Stuff.

Recent publications

  • Bollard, B., Doshi, A., Gilbert, N., Poirot, C., & Gillman, L. (2022). Drone Technology for Monitoring Protected Areas in Remote and Fragile Environments. Drones, 6(2), 42.
  • Fan, S., Cross, A. J., Prior, D. J., Goldsby, D. L., Hager, T. F., Negrini, M., & Qi, C. (2021). Crystallographic Preferred Orientation (CPO) Development Governs Strain Weakening in Ice: Insights From High‐Temperature Deformation Experiments. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 126(12), e2021JB023173.
  • Hannigan, J. W., Ortega, I., Shams, S. B., Blumenstock, T., Campbell, J. E., Conway, S., ... & Wizenberg, T. (2021). Global Atmospheric OCS Trend Analysis from 22 NDACC Stations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, e2021JD035764.

Scott Base recruitment for 2022/23

Last week, the Scott Base team recognised the end of the 2021/22 season with the changing of the flag ceremony. Recruitment of a new crew of superstars to look after the Base for the 2022/23 season is underway. If this sounds like someone you know, more info can be found here.

Science Media Centre workshops – Christchurch

There are spots available for a workshop about producing short videos being held this Thursday, 3 March) at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. More information is available here. It will be followed by a one hour session on engaging with media – you can register for that session (or future sessions in other locations) here.