Tuesday, January 5th 2021, 10:01 am - Researchers with the Australian Antarctic Program Parternship have deployed deep-diving robots to the Southern Ocean to study climate change and have encountered some fascinating creatures in their trawls.
Even though the depths of the deep sea are thousands of kilometres away from the atmosphere, the movements and functions of this underwater realm drastically influence the climate. Oceans cover more than 70 per cent of Earth’s surface and capture roughly 25 per cent of all carbon emissions, which is why protecting marine ecosystems is a critical action that will lower the risks from warming atmospheric temperatures.
To learn more about how marine life removes carbon from the atmosphere and what role this has in climate change, researchers from the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership (AAAP) have deployed a fleet of “new-generation, deep-diving ocean robots" to parts of the Southern Ocean near Australia.
The researchers are sailing on CSIRO’s RV Investigator and are using satellites, automated ocean gliders, and deep-diving robots to collect information on specific carbon-rich particles. Billions and billions of marine organisms, such as phytoplankton, live at and near the ocean’s surface and capture carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Carbon is needed by these organisms to sustain life and remains in their bodies even after their death. When these organisms die they slowly sink to the depths of the sea, which the researchers from AAAP compare to “a scene from a snow globe.”
#solacevoyage, day 12: The #sedimenttraps are back up after hanging in the water for 3 days. Look at all these #marinesnow particles and glorious #planktonpoo! @Ant_Partnership @FredOOOcean #RVInvestigator pic.twitter.com/9Q5f1nS4Rv— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 15, 2020
The carbon-rich carcasses that slowly drift to the bottom of the ocean are referred to as marine snow. They eventually become sequestered in the ocean floor’s sediment, where they can remain for millions of years. Even though phytoplankton are too small to be seen with the naked eye, scientists estimate that there are a staggering 45 billion tonnes of new phytoplankton each year, which is partly why they are able to capture such enormous amounts of carbon.
“The microscopic algae in the ocean are responsible for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as much as the forests on land are,” said Voyage Chief Scientist, Professor Philip Boyd, from AAPP and the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.
“We are excited about how this combination of new imaging sensors will allow us to get a larger and much clearer picture of how ocean life helps to store carbon. It’s a bit like an astronomer who has only been able to study one star at a time suddenly being able to observe the galaxy in three-dimensions.”
Researchers say that studying marine snow provides an opportunity to learn more about how the ocean has impacted the Earth’s climate for millions of years, the dynamics of Antarctic ice shelves, and interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. The scientists also say that this knowledge will help improve models and projects of future climate change and sea level rise.
The deep sea is crawling with unidentified marine animals and scientists estimate that there could be anywhere from several hundred thousand to more than ten million species in the ocean that are unknown to science. While aboard the RV Investigator, researchers have documented dozens of animals that they observed or accidentally caught in their trawls.
See below for a look at some of the deep sea creatures the researchers have discovered during their exploration in the Southern Ocean.
#solacevoyage, day 3: we had a first trawl yesterday, bringing up some beautiful shiny #fishing, bright red #prawn, #polychaetes and #crustacean larvae!— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 6, 2020
Steaming now slowly towards the SOTS site and more midwater trawls.@Ant_Partnership #RVInvestigator pic.twitter.com/4aulr3fXtr
#solacevoyage, day 7: Look what we found in the last trawl! It's a #pyrosome, a colonial tunicate, which usually lives in tropical and subtropical waters. Finding them down here in the #subantarctic can indicate an inflow of subtropical water from the EAC. @Ant_Partnership pic.twitter.com/xwqzbt5pWg— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 10, 2020
#solacevoyage, day 11: Look at this little #amphipod of the genus Phronima that inspired the movie "Alien"! It eats the inner parts of gelatinous #plankton and uses the empty barrel to swim around in the ocean. #RVInvestigator @Ant_Partnership pic.twitter.com/3e7NcETptc— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 14, 2020
#solacevoyage, day 14: Look what we found in our last #trawl from 1000 m depth: an anglerfish! This one is a female, the males are way smaller and live as parasites attached to the females. #RVInvestigator @Ant_Partnership #deepsea #phdlife @IMASUTAS pic.twitter.com/UShcstfJ8O— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 16, 2020
#solacevoyage, day 19: Jellies, lots of jellies! Whenever we bring the net in, we get loads of this gelatinous #plankton, called #siphonophores! They are actually large colonies of animals. One even looks like a Christmas tree!@Ant_Partnership pic.twitter.com/XSJF7uFF6h— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 19, 2020
#solacevoyage, day 20: Keen to learn more about deep-sea animals and how we study them? Check out the newest @Ant_Partnership blog on "Who's who in the zoo? #Micronekton in the #SouthernOcean": https://t.co/h8Mq8m26PP! pic.twitter.com/DjsDeiWj6x— Svenja Halfter (@svenja_halfter) December 23, 2020
Can anyone help us identify these? We found them in our trawl this morning and we don't know what they are. They look like a pteropod but with wings. #solacevoyage #rvinvestigator @IMASUTAS pic.twitter.com/gynyFGiv8s— Inessa Corney (@CorneyInessa) December 25, 2020
Thumbnail credit: Svenja Halfter