The Antarctic deep sea gets colder

April 21, 2008
The Antarctic deep sea gets colder
Polarstern in sea ice. Credit: M. Schueller / Alfred Wegener Institute

The Antarctic deep sea gets colder, which might stimulate the circulation of the oceanic water masses. This is the first result of the Polarstern expedition of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association that has just ended in Punta Arenas/Chile. At the same time satellite images from the Antarctic summer have shown the largest sea-ice extent on record. In the coming years autonomous measuring buoys will be used to find out whether the cold Antarctic summer induces a new trend or was only a "slip".

The Polarstern expedition ANT-XXIV/3 was dedicated to examining the oceanic circulation and the oceanic cycles of materials that depend on it. Core themes were the projects CASO (Climate of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean) and GEOTRACES, two of the main projects in the Antarctic in the International Polar Year 2007/08.

Under the direction of Dr. Eberhard Fahrbach, Oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute, 58 scientists from ten countries were on board the research vessel Polarstern in the Southern Ocean from 6 February until 16 April, 2008. They studied ocean currents as well as the distribution of temperature, salt content and trace substances in Antarctic sea water.

"We want to investigate the role of the Southern Ocean for past, present and future climate," chief scientist Fahrbach said. The sinking water masses in the Southern Ocean are part of the overturning in this region and thus play a major role in global climate. "While the last Arctic summer was the warmest on record, we had a cold summer with a sea-ice maximum in the Antarctic. The expedition shall form the basis for understanding the opposing developments in the Arctic and in the Antarctic," Fahrbach said.

In the frame of the GEOTRACES project the scientists found the smallest iron concentrations ever measured in the ocean. As iron is an essential trace element for algal growth, and algae assimilate CO2 from the air, the concentration of iron is an important parameter against the background of the discussion to what extent the oceans may act as a carbon sink.

As the oceanic changes only become visible after several years and also differ spatially, the data achieved during the Polarstern expeditions are not sufficient to discern long-term developments. The data gap can only be closed with the aid of autonomous observing systems, moored at the seafloor or drifting freely, that provide oceanic data for several years. "As a contribution to the Southern Ocean Observation System we deployed, in international cooperation, 18 moored observing stations, and we recovered 20. With a total of 65 floating systems that can also collect data under the sea ice and are active for up to five years we constructed a unique and extensive measuring network," Fahrbach said.

In order to get the public, and especially the young generation, interested in science and research and to sensitise them for environmental processes, two teachers were on board Polarstern. Both took an active part in research work and communicated their experiences to pupils, colleagues and the media via internet and telephone. "We will bring home many impressions from this expedition, and we will be able to provide a lively picture of the polar regions and their impact on the whole earth to the pupils," Charlotte Lohse, teacher at the Heisenberg-Gymnasium in Hamburg, and Stefan Theisen from the Free Waldorf School in Kiel said.

Source: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

Explore further: RV Polarstern on its way to East Siberian Sea

Related Stories

RV Polarstern on its way to East Siberian Sea

August 21, 2008

Bremerhaven, August 19th 2008. German research vessel Polarstern, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, transits the Northwest Passage for the first time. Polarstern ...

New species of invertebrates discovered in the Antarctic

May 26, 2010

The polyps of the new gorgonia discovered, Tauroprimnoa austasensis and Digitogorgia kuekenthali, in the region of Austasen, in the Eastern Weddell Sea, and to the south-east of the Falklands and Isla Nueve (in Chilean Patagonia) ...

Climate change and life in the Southern Ocean

November 27, 2007

A ten-week expedition to the Lazarev Sea and the eastern part of the Weddell Sea opens this year's Antarctic research season of the German research vessel Polarstern. On the evening of November 28, just some two hours after ...

Research ship Polarstern returns from Antartica

May 19, 2011

Bremerhaven, 19 May 2011. The research vessel Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association will arrive back at its homeport of Bremerhaven after a seven-month expedition ...

Recommended for you

Rainfall's natural variation hides climate change signal

February 22, 2018

New research from The Australian National University (ANU) and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science suggests natural rainfall variation is so great that it could take a human lifetime for significant climate ...

Seasonal patterns in the Amazon explained

February 22, 2018

Environmental scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have led an international collaboration to improve satellite observations of tropical forests.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 22, 2008
"While the last Arctic summer was the warmest on record, we had a cold summer with a sea-ice maximum in the Antarctic. The expedition shall form the basis for understanding the opposing developments in the Arctic and in the Antarctic," Fahrbach said.

So "Global Warming" is not "global" ???

I know... it is just a "slip"... not a trend. But who says when a series of slips become a trend? We are a world in crisis, but I doubt seriously if we'll die of global warming before we kill ourselves off fighting over who is right and who is wrong.
not rated yet Apr 22, 2008
The lack of iron is definitely something to fret about isnt it. Its a double downer. First: If iron shortage leads to less algae then bang has gone the start of the food chain. Less algae, less krill, less fish, less humans.

And second: Less biomass leads to less CO2 uptake, further reducing the biosphere's ability to absorb our increasing CO2 emissions. Meaning the rate of increase will be exacerbated. I guess this reinforces the drop in CO2 uptake in the southern ocean that was last year ascribed to the higher mixing rates due the stronger winds caused by the more energetic global climate. So we have multiple hits going on down there. Keep an eye on it please folks!
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2008
Strange how every cold event is labeled a 'slip' or an outlyer while every warm event is proof positive. Almost as if someone has an agenda they are trying to prove. We need dispassionate observation and analysis, not reactionary hype whose only solution involves laws, taxes, and sacrifice.

BTW- I have accepted no $$ from any outside corporate interest in stating my opinion.
not rated yet Jul 29, 2008
If you put a ball of icecream on a plate, when it melts, the "extent" will be larger, and the temperature of the outer part of the melted icecream will be lower than before it was there.

What is required is an assessment of the stored energy in the system.

If you are in an igloo, and the igloo starts to melt, some cold meltwater falls onto your forehead, your forehead gets cooler. Would it make sense to determine that since your forehead got cooler, the igloo wasn't melting?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.