The Heated Settlement Panels

The Heated Settlement Panels

Start date
1 January, 2015
End date
30 September, 2017

How will life and biodiversity on Earth will respond to climate change? This information is particularly urgent for the waters along the Antarctic Peninsula, which are experiencing rapid regional climate change. Understanding the effects on marine life in this region is one of the BAS Grand Challenges: Polar Change.

Over the past 5 years, scientists and the Antarctic Marine Engineering Team (AME) have developed a novel system of heated settlement panels. A small electric current is fed to a heating element on the underside of a standard settlement panel. This ensures that the thin layer of water overlying the panels is heated to 1 or 2ºC above ambient temperatures, thus mimicking a warming ocean. Small encrusting animals settle on these panels and because once they are settled they stay where they are, we can monitor how fast they grow and compete with each other for space at the different temperatures.

This encrusting (or biofouling) community, often comprised of bryozoans, calcareous tube-dwelling polychaetes, is important worldwide, being the main colonisers and transformers of new surfaces in shallow marine environments. Encrusting communities also have great economic importance. In 2008 alone the costs of managing and preventing marine biofouling was estimated at $15 billion for desalination systems and power plants, and $7 billion for shipping worldwide.

Divers set up heated settlement panels for biological research at Rothera Research Station

In 2014, scientists deployed a full-scale experiment in waters around Rothera. They use high-resolution photography by SCUBA to monitor settlement and growth of organisms on the panels. By analysing these photographs taken at regular intervals over 2 years, we will be able to determine how biofouling communities will be affected under future climate change.

Bryozoans – tiny filter-feeding marine creatures live on the continental shelf around Antarctica – can reveal much about environmental change in Antarctica.


This project is funded by NERC: reference NE/J007501/1 “Effects of warming on recruitment and marine benthic community development in Antarctica”

The aims of this project are to:

  1. Identify which species grow on these settlement panels
  2. Determine how their growth rates are affected by different temperatures: do they grow better or worse on the warmer panels?
  3. Analyse the community composition at the different temperatures; does it change?
  4. Identify how temperature affects competition between the different species

This project is based at Rothera operating out of the Bonner Laboratory, but Leyre Villota-Nieva, the PhD student associated with the project is also trialing the panels in Bangor, UK studing seasonal responses in the Menai Straits.



Research collaborators

The PhD associated with this project is co-supervised by Dr Andrew Davies at Bangor University

Collaboration on biofilm metagenomics with Dr Ben Temperton at the University of Exeter