Women scientists take on Antarctica

The Ross Sea Environment and Ecosystem Voyage has eight women scientists working across the fields of oceanography, ecology and biology onboard the RV Tangaroa.

The MBIE funded multi-disciplinary voyage will return to New Zealand in late March upon completion of an ambitious programme to the new Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area (MPA). The research undertaken by these women focuses on measuring ocean circulation through the deployment of long-term oceanographic moorings, ascertaining the zooplankton community and trophic structure in relation to environmental variables, seabed imaging to determine benthic biodiversity patterns, and understanding the connectivity of humpback whale populations and their relationship with prey availability in Antarctica.

It has been remarkably ice-free this year with easy access to areas typically covered in ice. This has allowed access to new areas both in and outside the MPA but there is concern about the implications of a lack of ice for the ecosystem. There have been very few penguins, seals and large seabird aggregations so they may have shifted elsewhere. With a growing number of samples of zooplankton, such as salps, copepods and krill, whale biopsies for genotyping and determining breeding ground connections, and seabed organisms such as corals, shrimps and brittlestars, there is a lot of work to do when they return.

The time at sea is only part of a longer term research programmes in the region, including the Southern Ocean Research Partnership and Deep South Challenge, to understand the efficacy of the MPA and how changes in the Southern Ocean are influencing this important ecosystem.

 AWIS photo Antarctic women 2018 Arne Pallentin photo

Photo: Front: Aitana Forcen Vazquez (oceanographer - University of Auckland & MetOcean Solutions), Amelia Connell (marine biologist – University of Auckland) Back: Rochelle Constantine (marine mammal ecologist - University of Auckland), Pippa Low (marine mammal ecologist - University of Auckland), Leena Riekkola (PhD student – University of Auckland), Sarah Searson (marine physics technician – NIWA), Moira Decima (zooplankton ecologist – NIWA), Sadie Mills (invertebrate collection manager – NIWA)

With thanks to Dr Rochelle Constantine for sending the story from the ice