20 August, 2012

Ocean sampling: Rothera, Antarctic Peninsula: last but not least!

Are the World’s oceans all the same, or are they different? OK at the most basic level, we all know that temperatures vary dramatically depending on where you are in the World; so for example if the Olympic sailors had fallen in off Weymouth, it would have been a chilly 17°C, move them to the Indian Ocean, its a rather more pleasant 24°C, but you wouldn’t want to take a dip in the Antarctic, where the Southern Ocean is usually well below 0°C, especially at this time of year, which is the Southern hemisphere winter. We also know that the marine life varies a lot. When you mention this to most people they think of the animals you can see: penguins, seals, whales, fish, starfish, shrimps… but what about the stuff you can’t see, which provides vital food for the bigger stuff? Phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacteria? How does this vary globally both in terms of location and season? It is the unseen stuff that powers everything else.

Ocean Sampling day will catalogue the contents of the world’s oceans on the Summer Solstice 2014. It is being co-ordinated by Professor Dawn Field (NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford and the University of Oxford) as part of the European FP7 funded project MicroB3. In the run-up to 2014, the network of sites is being assembled, standard sampling practises are being developed and trials are being run, so on 21st June 2014 everything should run like clock-work. Since all the samples will be collected the same way, the data can be directly compared, whether the water is from the tropics or the poles.

One of the first sites to join up was the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera base on the Antarctic Peninsula. Unfortunately whilst it was the summer solstice for most of the sites, at Rothera it was midwinter with howling gales and thick sea ice. Our intrepid Marine Assistant, Mairi Fenton, finally managed to sample on the 31st of July, so read her blog and those of the other Ocean samplers. The aim is to repeat the trials for the winter solstice, which in Rothera will be the height of summer: it will be so much easier!

Ocean Sampling Day blog

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology