It is actually day 2 but if you told me it was day 5 I’d believe you.
Due to the grogginess of either the sea sickness, or the sea sickness medication, I slept on an off for a lot of yesterday and don’t know what day it is. This was not a bad thing as we started work at 3 am this morning so the extra sleep was most welcome. Our first net was cancelled due to the flood lights on the trawl deck not working. (It’s not a good thing if the crew can’t see rogue waves heading their way). So we all went back to bed, to get up again at 8 to try again. The deployment was successful however the catch was not as exciting as the previous day, so I shall take this opportunity to explain my purpose on board this ship. To the science!
In a nutshell we are searching for zooplankton; tiny animals that can tell us about how climate change is altering their surrounding environment. As we release more CO2 into the atmosphere, more CO2 is absorbed in to the oceans. The colder regions absorb more CO2, for the same reason that champagne holds it bubbles when it is cold: CO2 is more soluble at lower temperatures. This makes the Southern Ocean a very significant carbon sink and therefore moderator of global climate. As more Co2 invades the ocean this lowers the pH which makes it increasingly difficult for organisms that build calcium carbonate shells to survive. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, and we are looking for evidence of this in two calcifying organisms, foraminifera and pteropods.
There is very little known about how current changes to climate are affecting these organisms and so for the last three years researchers from the University of Tasmania and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Coorprative Research Centre (ACE CRC) have been coming along this transect, collecting samples to analyse for changes in shell structure and shell chemistry. It is projected that by 2100 the pH of the ocean will have changed to a point that makes it inhabitable for pteropods. That’s it, the end of the pteropods. I feel privileged, and guilty, to have found one.
The sophisticated analyses will occur in shore based laboratories at the ANU and at the University of Western Australia. One does as little as possible at sea, because even the easiest tasks can become challenging. I pride myself in multi-tasking with the best of them on land, at sea I am happy to get my boot laces done up properly. It is very expensive to get out here, and the samples are incredibly precious. If they are your own samples some might say they are priceless. So for now, we are isolating them, storing them in ethanol and then they will tell us their secrets in a few months time when they finally make their way back to our laboratories. No one ever said this was a speedy process!