By Samuel Jaccard,
geologist and member of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern, taking part in the ACE project Understanding the plankton’s strategy to survive.
We’re now approaching Mertz Glacier, where we will be stopping for at least four days. The ship had to fight its way through the ice pack in order to approach the glacier’s tongue. The glacier is grounded on the continent and extends for kilometers into the ocean and is named after Swiss glaciologist and explorer Xavier Mertz. The Akademik Treshnikov can break through sea ice up to 1.5m thick. It was spectacular to see how the ship was slowly progressing through the ice and zigzagging between icebergs. Temperatures are freezing and unpredictable katabatic winds occasionally blast the surface ocean.
Besides a dense oceanography program – which I will be discussing later -, a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) will be deployed from the ship to investigate the impact of retreating sea ice on benthic ecosystems. The submersible is not only capable of taking pictures and video footage but can also retrieve samples from the seafloor using its very agile robotic arms.
The community living on the seafloor around Antarctica is surprisingly diverse and includes corals and sponges. These organisms can live for decades and are characterized by very slow reproductive cycles, rendering them very vulnerable to environmental change.
Mertz Glacier retreated dramatically in 2010, losing about 80% of its mass. The glacier is growing again at a rate of about 1 km per year, extending toward the ocean. The ice is affected by changing climate but its dynamics may largely be influenced by bottom topography.
Tomorrow I will be discussing the specifics of our research program in more details and explain you why the environment around Mertz Glacier is so fascinating and unique!