Deploying NZ oceanographic mooring equipment in the Ross Sea

Deploying NZ oceanographic mooring equipment in the Ross Sea from the IBRV Araon. Photo: Sarah Searson, NIWA

Case Study: International cooperation and ocean monitoring in the Ross Sea

22 August 2022

The Antarctic Science Platform is collaborating across New Zealand and with other nations to share and deploy resources into Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Building on New Zealand’s long involvement, the Platform’s research supports stewardship of the Ross Sea region - the slice of Antarctica closest to home. Our field work is undertaken in remote locations and challenging conditions, including voyaging into the most Southerly seas to understand ocean dynamics and marine ecosystems.

Aligned with international Antarctic programmes, New Zealand has made significant investment into physical and biological marine observations in the Ross Sea, including deploying oceanographic moorings and floats, taking samples, and making observations from space. Yet, the vastness of the Southern Ocean, its critical role as a prominent driver of global climate, and its diverse and yet relatively unexplored ecosystems, pose an enormous challenge to adequately monitor key vitals and to detect change.

Collaboration between New Zealand and other National Programmes of the USA, Italy, Korea, Australia, Germany and China coordinate efforts to cover the vast stretch of Southern Ocean between Aotearoa and the Ross Sea region.

New Zealand actively participates in the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) Ross Sea Working Group, an initiative underpinned by SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) and SCOR (Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research), to develop frameworks for providing the science community with data from the Southern Ocean. This and other initiatives are enabling regional partners to work together to exchange research data, share equipment, provide access to seagoing vessels, and support each other’s goals. The Antarctic Science Platform is proud to be an important partner contributing to this international effort.

In the 2021-2022 field season, in the southern Summer, New Zealand moorings near the Drygalski Ice Tongue in Terra Nova Bay were recovered by the Korean Icebreaker, the IBRV Araon. In addition, a fisheries vessel deployed two Argo floats for Platform research. New Zealand provided sensors and equipment for Italian ocean researchers aboard the RV Laura Bassi at short notice, when supply for their voyage was delayed. Equally, the Italian RV Laura Bassi diverted course during her 2021/22 voyage after a New Zealand request for bathymetry data to support the deployment of new ocean sensors. The ship collected over 50km of bathymetry data, processed the data and send them to Scott Base for immediate use.

Every two years, New Zealand deploys the RV Tangaroa into the Southern Ocean, and then it is our turn to recover and deploy instrumentation for international colleagues. In addition, HMNZS Aotearoa and NZ-flagged fishing vessels support science observations.

Beyond these examples, there are many collaborative partnerships looking at what the collected data mean for the region, ecosystems, and the wider climate system. This includes understanding the direct observations and the processes they reveal. Building on this understanding, we gain insight into how the wider system works, especially in biophysical connections. In this way, direct observations and data work inform projections for future scenarios and support evidence-based decision making.

CTD deployment

Crew member Bryce Bennett deploying a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) rosette from the RV Tangaroa, which went to 5300 m depth. Photo: David Bowden, NIWA

The Antarctic Science Platform supports many areas of overlapping international research interests, including physical oceanographic observations, the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area, autonomous vehicles, acoustics and marine mammals, integration of modelling, and more. The recent renewal of various Antarctic-capable vessels used by National Antarctic Programs and the New Zealand Defence Force, new relationships with fishing and tourist vessels, and continued international collaboration provide exciting new opportunities to access new ocean frontiers.

This Case Study was submitted to MBIE as part of the ASP annual reporting for the 2021-2022 year. It illustrates how, together with international collaborators, the ASP is contributing to excellent research in the Ross Sea region.