Tuesday, December 26, 2006

 

Antarctic research within the International Polar Year IPY 2007/2008

The 27th research campaign of Bremerhaven's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research marks the beginning of the summer research season in the Antarctic. The institute collaborates with 20 research institutions and ten logistics organisations from 14 countries. Neumayer Station will serve as the logistical base for extensive measurements using aircraft. An expedition aboard research icebreaker Polarstern is travelling along the Antarctic Peninsula as part of the global 'Census of Marine Life', and at the Dallmann Laboratory activities will be focussing on Antarctic habitats as they undergo climate change. The Antarctic summer lasts from November to April. Many projects will be an overture to the International Polar Year 2007/2008.

Science and Logistics: Neumayer Station
The Alfred Wegener Institute's research station Neumayer (70 degrees 39 minutes S, 08 degrees 15 minutes W) is occupied year round and represents the centre of German Antarctic research. During the current season, a total of 42 scientific and technical staff will be working at the station. Personnel and cargo are being air-freighted and coordinated jointly within DROMLAN (Dronning Maud Land Air Network), an international network of eleven research institutes. In mid December, the new over-wintering crew of the Alfred Wegener Institute arrived at Neumayer Station. This year, the group consists of four women and five men who will be responsible for station maintenance and ongoing long-term collection of meteorological, geophysical and air chemistry data.

Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML)
As part of the global research project 'Census of Marine Life' (CoML), an expedition aboard the research icebreaker Polarstern is currently investigating an oceanic region alongside the Antarctic Peninsula which, for the first time, has become accessible to science after a large section of the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed in 2002. Within the project, a total of 47 scientists from twelve countries explore biological diversity. The 'Census of Antarctic Marine Life' is the largest marine research programme in the Antarctic and hence represents one of the major IPY projects. Actual videos, pictures and reports from the Polarstern expedition under: www.cousteau.org/caml/html, www.educapoles.org, www.sciencepoles.org, www.polarjahr.de

Aerosols and trace gases
AOn December 15th, the research aircraft Polar 2 landed at Neumayer Station, marking the start of the German-Japanese project ANTSYO II (Japan-German Airborne Observation Program). Until January of 2007, measurements identifying minute airborne particles, so-called aerosols, and various trace gases, will be carried out from the aircraft. The physical, optical and chemical characteristics of aerosols will be the focus of the measurement campaign throughout the Antarctic summer season. In addition, the major pathways of aerosols to the Antarctic will be identified.

Antarctic underwater sounds
For one year now, the working group 'Oceanic Acoustics' of the Alfred Wegener Institute has been maintaining PALAOA, the 'PerenniAL Acoustic Observatory in the Antarctic', located near Neumayer Station. PALAOA (70 degrees 31 minutes S, 8 degrees 13 minutes W), consists of four underwater microphones, so-called hydrophones, which are recording all sounds of the Antarctic Ocean 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Scientists are hoping to gain new insights into communication of marine mammals such as seals and whales. The data will also provide information about the effect of anthropogenic sounds on the behaviour of the animals.
A live audio stream of PALAOA can be found on the internet at: www.awi.de/acoustics

Diverse life in the cold
At the Dallmann Laboratory (62 degrees 14 minutes S, 58 degrees 40 minutes W), only operated during the Antarctic summer, biological research is paramount. In particular, the diversity of various organisms and their adaptations to climate change and extreme environmental conditions are the centre of the researcher's attention. One example is the investigation of algal growth under high light intensities with simultaneous low temperatures by scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, in collaboration with the Institute for Polar Ecology in Kiel. The effect of ice movement on species communities of the sea floor is an additional research focus at Dallmann Laboratory. The IPY project CliCOPEN (Impact of Climate induced glacial melting on marine and terrestric COastal communities on a gradient along the Western Antarctic PENinsula) addresses the impact of climate induced glacial melting on coastal species communities of the western Antarctic Peninsula.

Detailed information about all German research projects associated with the 3rd International Polar Year 2007/2008 can be found on the internet at: www.polarjahr.de

The above press release is available via "Antarctic research within the International Polar Year IPY 2007/2008"

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From the International Polar Year website:

"The Polar Regions are remote areas of the Earth that have profound significance for the Earth's climate and ultimately environments, ecosystems and human society. However we still remain remarkably ignorant of many aspects of how polar climate operates and its interaction with polar environments, ecosystems and societies. To have any hope of understanding the current global climate and what might happen in future the science community needs a better picture of conditions at the poles and how they interact with and influence the oceans, atmosphere and land masses. Existing climate models do not work well in the polar regions and have for example failed to predict the dramatic break-up of Antarctic ice shelves observed in recent years. The three fastest warming regions on the planet in the last two decades have been Alaska, Siberia and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, Thus the Polar Regions are highly sensitive to climate change and this raises real concern for the future of polar ecosystems and Arctic society.

There have been a number of major international science initiatives in Polar Regions since the first International Polar Year in 1882-83 and all have had a major influence in overhauling our understanding of global processes in these important areas. These initiatives have involved an intense period of interdisciplinary research, collecting a broad range of measurements that provide a snapshot in time of the state of the polar regions. The last such initiative was the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58, involving 80,000 scientists from 67 countries."

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From the US IPY website:

A concerted worldwide effort is underway to plan scientific and educational activities for the upcoming International Polar Year (IPY). Scheduled to officially begin in March 2007, IPY promises to advance our understanding of how the Earth's remote polar regions impact global climate systems, to bring about fundamental advances in many areas of science, and to fire the enthusiasm of young men and women for future careers in science and engineering.

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A Press Release from November 13th 2006:

Ice-breaker Polarstern to explore uncharted seafloor

Huge areas of sea floor (around 3,250 square km) have been freed up by the collapse 4 years ago of the Larsen B platform along the Antarctic Peninsula - leaving a blank spot on Antarctic maps. Polarstern, the research flagship of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, will shortly conduct there the first major biological research, studying living communities, from microbes to whales, including bottom fish and squids...

Evolution of bottom Fauna

Meanwhile, the vanishing ice allowing vegetal and animal plankton to reinvade and thrive in these areas offers a perfect opportunity to study the evolution of bottom animal communities depending on this plankton. Sampling with various trawls, grabs and traps and the use of a remote operated vehicle with a video camera will allow the description of new species within this near-pristine environment. A dozen scientific studies will look into groups as different as microbes, sponges, crustaceans, octopuses, starfish and whales, from the grounding line to the open sea areas, and will furthermore give the best benchmark of the early stages of colonization. These studies could become a reference for other parts of Antarctica where such disintegration of ice shelves is already expected on how climate-induced shifts in biodiversity will change in ecosystems structured largely by ice.

Mud Volcanoes

The expedition will also lead the first biological studies of a recently discovered cold-vent ecosystem in the same Larsen area, the first of its kind known in Antarctica. Uncovered in 2005 by an American geoscience research team, this 8 km zone harbors mounds spewing out fluid and mud particles, as well as clusters of large clams. These mollusks and their associated fauna probably depend on chemical energy from the Earth, rather than one driven by photosynthesis from the sun or from hot emissions rising from inside the planet.

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Antarctic webcams (some may need to be manually updated via the browser reload/refresh button) include:

New Zealand's Scott Base webcam

Australia's Mawson Station webcam

Germany's Penguin webcam

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