Antarctic Science Platform researchers are among hundreds of international scientists sounding a clarion call for urgent expansion of Southern Ocean science in the emerging climate crisis.
This week 300 scientists from 25 nations have been meeting in the Antarctic gateway city of Hobart for the first-ever international conference of the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS). A joint statement was released at the close of the conference, saying that no nation alone can provide the research needed to address the climate questions facing us.
SOOS Co-Chair Dr Sian Henley said this is a critical time to bring the world together and focus on an ocean central to the global climate system.
“It is only due to long-term observations from the last 30 years or so that we now understand how important the Southern Ocean is. To a large extent, the Southern Ocean controls the uptake of human-generated heat and carbon into the ocean and keeps our planet liveable.”
despite the efforts of long-term
programs carried out by several nations, the Southern Ocean remains one of the most under-observed regions
on our planet. As
the extent of winter sea ice crashes and penguin populations shift dramatically, it is more pressing than ever to have
a sustained and coordinated Southern Ocean observing system to understand current conditions and inform predictions of future states,” said Dr Henley.
Co-leader of the Antarctic Platform's Project 2, Prof Craig Stevens, a member of the SOOS Scientific Steering Committee and NIWA's principal Scientist - Marine Physics, said “from the perspective of a modest island economy very close to the Southern Ocean, it is vital that we sustain observations of this rapidly changing component of the planet’s climate system. The risk if we don’t is that we will have far less warning of future changes that will be felt throughout the globe.”
One of the themes emphasised at the SOOS Symposium is the way forward to take efforts developed by groups from Italy, South Korea, USA, UK, Australia, as well as Aotearoa New Zealand, and develop a more coordinated "observatory" approach.
Understanding complex processes and their interconnections requires different types of observations in different places brought together with modelling tools. This will provide critical information about what is happening right now and enable improved model results. Having a comprehensive network of ocean observations across the Ross Sea region is essential.
The Antarctic Science Platform aims to continue to develop our time series observations at critical locations in the Ross Sea and then, through partnerships with other national programmes and SOOS (Southern Ocean Observing System), create an integrated and responsive ocean observing system. One example of a network of international observations is the RSfEAR (Ross Sea and far East Antarctic) network being discussed with Australia.
Such a network would connect research on climate, ecosystems and sea-ice processes, advancing the Platform’s purpose of delivering excellent science to understand the impact of future changes in Antarctica.
The Platform is working closely with Italian colleagues to finalise details of an opportunity for scientists from Aotearoa New Zealand to join the upcoming voyage of the research vessel Laura Bassi to the Ross Sea this summer. The goal is a substantial increase in our year-round environmental data acquisition through deployment of autonomous sampling devices at key locations across the Ross Sea.
Such deployments are the only way that we can gather data when the Ross Sea is ice-bound during winter. This effort contributes to the international goal of a robust network of data collection platforms around Antarctica. It has a particular focus of deploying a profiling mooring in the Ross Sea Polynya - a critically important feature that forms at the front of the Ross Ice Shelf that is a key driver of sea ice formation and ocean processes. This polynya is one of Antarctica’s big sources of sea ice and the dense ocean water that ventilates the deep sea. A better understanding of how this area functions is critical to addressing the uncertainties around the recent crash in sea ice production and understanding the risks to how the Southern Ocean will contribute to global heat flux into the future.
In addition, researchers on the vessel will undertake research to develop our understanding of the vulnerability of Ross Sea ecosystems to changing climate. This is critically important as we look to how well the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area is supporting those unique ecosystems. As we begin to see a rapid reduction in sea ice cover – which may yet prove to be part of natural variability, the anticipated response to changing climate, or a bit of both – understanding how such changes will cascade through biogeochemical systems to impact across the entire food chain from plankton to top predators becomes increasingly urgent.
The SOOS Symposium statement:
The Southern Ocean is a critical component of the global climate system. The Southern Ocean controls to a large extent the uptake of human generated heat and carbon into the ocean. Yet, we are currently observing critical changes in the Southern Ocean that are seen in the record low levels of sea-ice extent, record high temperatures and dramatic shifts in penguin populations, among other striking changes. The chronic lack of observations for the Southern Ocean challenges our ability to detect and assess the consequences of change. As such, it is more pressing than ever to have a sustained and coordinated Southern Ocean observing system to provide an understanding of current conditions, inform predictions of future states, and support policies and regulations for the benefit of society.