Scientists to dive in Antarctic waters to test ocean acidification threat

Scientists to dive in Antarctic waters to test ocean acidification threat

Scientists to dive in Antarctic waters to test ocean acidification threat

Updated 22 October 2014, 21:55 AEDT

Scientists are preparing to dive into Antarctic waters in an effort to mimic predicted future ocean conditions and study the effects of acidification.

More than 80 people, including researchers, engineers and divers, will be on board the Aurora Australis when it leaves for Davis Station tonight from Hobart for the start of the Antarctic summer season.

The ship will face extensive sea ice when it reaches the continent, but crew members said the ageing icebreaker was prepared.

One of the season's major projects will be looking at the impacts of ocean acidification

For the first time, scientists will be trying to mimic future Antarctic ocean conditions in a ground-breaking experiment based on the sea floor.

When carbon dioxide dissolves from the atmosphere into the ocean, sea water becomes more acidic.

Scientists are predicting that by the year 2100, the ocean will be two and half times more acidic than it is now.

The theory will be tested by a team at Casey Station in Antarctica, which will set-up special underwater chambers.

Carbon dioxide will be turned up to measure the impact on sea floor creatures.

We will be able to detect any changes in the sea floor community over the four month study

Antarctic project manager, Dr Jonny Stark

Antarctic Division marine ecologist Dr Jonny Stark said the project would give scientists a window into the future.

"We will be able to detect any changes in the sea floor community over the four month study, see what happens to the animals and plants and how the chemistry of the seawater and seabed sediments change over time," he said.

The experimental chambers will be fitted with underwater flow meters, temperature sensors, and time-lapse cameras, which will record all the changes in the environment.

A complex system of pipes and pumps will work 24 hours a day to draw the seawater to the surface, where it will be enriched with carbon dioxide, before being pumped back down under the sea ice and into the chambers.

The experiment will be conducted between November and March next year.

Some of the team members flew to Antarctica late last week.

Scientists monitor sea ice threat

Robb Clifton from the Australian Antarctic Division said the current sea ice conditions in east Antarctica were challenging.

Mr Clifton said thickening sea ice was making it more difficult to operate on the icy continent.

"But we've known about that. I mean the science informs us that's what we're going to face and so we've put a range of contingency plans in place so that if we are delayed by difficult ice conditions we can still get as much done as we can," he said.

"We are monitoring the situation closely as recent satellite imagery shows extensive sea ice around Davis Station, but we don't know where it is until we get there.

"Like all our voyage plans we have contingencies in place for refuelling and resupplying the station of we are delayed in reaching it."

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