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Scotia Sea open-ocean biological laboratories


Start date
1 October, 2006

The Scotia Sea open-ocean biological programme of Sustained Observation is focussed on crucial Earth System indicators in Antarctica that are vital to UK and global science.

National Capability Science

The open ocean observatories are situated in the northern Scotia Sea to investigate the biological and biogeochemical influence of the largest persistent phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean. Relative to its size, Southern Ocean sequesters a disproportionate amount of anthropogenic carbon to the deep ocean. Moorings are equipped to measure the amount of carbon reaching the deep ocean. This is the end-point to a long chain of events which starts with carbon entering the surface layers and being fixed by photosynthetic plankton. These organisms die or are eaten and some of the carbon they contain eventually sinks into the deeper layers, leading to its removal from the biosphere.

Understanding the carbon pump

This process is known as the carbon pump and is a key process in the regulation of atmospheric CO2. Much of what we know about the carbon pump has been obtained through moored sediment traps deployed over annual cycles. Such moorings have given us some of the only measurements of biological activity at certain times of year in the Southern Ocean when seasonal sea-ice covers large areas.  Over the last decades, these instruments have helped resolve spatial and temporal variability in the carbon pump in the Southern Ocean and its sensitivity to regional climate change. The bulk of this sequestration is likely to occur in highly productive zones such as at the South Georgia bloom. Our understanding of the fate of carbon in such sites is nevertheless limited by lack of in situ observations. SCOOBIES is making strategically important measurements on the fate of carbon both within the site of the bloom (site P3) and in a control site with lower productivity (site P2). It is also one of very small number of observatories making continuous measurements of carbonate chemistry parameters (pH and CO2 sensors) with which to document ocean acidification, which is increasing rapidly in polar regions. the WCB mooring provides a shelf-region comparison to the open-ocean measurements of sites P2 and P3.

SCOOBIES sustained observation stations

Enhance understanding of Southern Ocean environmental variation and response

SCOOBIES is making decadal scale measurements of environmental variation and responses to that variation, which are of major importance in the functioning of Southern Ocean systems. Many of the datasets have already been used by a number of UK and international science teams, and other stakeholders (UK govt., fisheries management bodies, conservation NGOs). Leading roles in national and international science programmes have been facilitated as a result of undertaking this programme.

Capture and analyse long term carbon data

The sustained observations undertaken by SCOOBIES presently provides the only long term measurements of carbon flux and sequestration in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. The observatories (3 in total) are strategically placed around the South Georgia bloom, the largest hotspot of primary productivity in the Southern Ocean, and a major region of atmospheric carbon drawdown. The observatories are maintained in association with the bioacoustic systems deployed as part of the POETS funded programme.   POETS supports the major hardware for the observatories, such as weights, rope and recovery buoys.  SCOOBIES encompasses the augmentation of these moorings with devices that measure parameters relevant to biogeochemical cycles, vertical flux, ocean acidification and microplastic monitoring.  It also involves zooplankton net sampling in the vicinity of the moorings. Moored instrumentation generates year-round measurements to examine the role of the planktonic food web in biogeochemical processes and vertical flux of carbon and silica, and the influence of environmental variables on these processes, including eddy activity, variability in the location of water masses, upwelling, and ocean acidification.

Build expertise that influences other research programmes

SCOOBIES was a major driver to the COMICS NERC Large Grant proposal, which was successfully funded in 2015 to determine the major drivers in mechanisms controlling the attenuation of carbon flux with depth. This £3.7M proposal will carry out a major multi-institute, multi-disciplinary cruise around the SCOOBIES sites in November and December 2017, bringing together expertise in physics, biogeochemistry and marine robotics to augment the sustained observations being made in this region by the SCOOBIES team.  The expertise built up by SCOOBIES was also integral part of PICCOLO NERC Thematic grant, which recently bid successfully to examine carbon flux and other biogeochemical processes in the lower limb of Antarctic overturning circulation as part of the ROSES programme in support of the NERC LTSM project, ORCHESTRA. SCOOBIES scientists will measure sinking particulate carbon and pelagic biomass in the Weddell Sea, using techniques developed at the SCOOBIES site and, in so doing, providing a high latitude comparison to SCOOBIES.