In December, researchers of Wageningen Marine Research will join two research vessels heading for two different sides of the Antarctic continent. Further research on the importance of sea ice for the functioning of the ecosystem will be done with the German icebreaker Polarstern. On the other side of Antarctica, krill will be investigated with the Japanese research vessel Kaiyo-maru, aiming to do a stock assessment of this commercially harvested species. Such a double expedition provides an unique opportunity to compare the ecosystems of different regions around Antarctica.
The wonders of the Weddell Sea
In the Weddell Sea, the researchers of Wageningen Marine Research will closely collaborate with colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences. The goal is to investigate the relationship between life underneath the sea ice, the distribution of top predators such as birds and seals, and the properties of the sea ice and the underlying water column. To do this, a combination of data and samples will be collected through, for example, bird and mammal counts, and the use of various fishing gear such as the SUIT (Surface and Under Ice Trawl) and the RMT (Rectangular Midwater Trawl). The collected data can, in addition, be compared with those of earlier expeditions conducted in this region. To increase the understanding of natural, annual variation and the effect of different sea ice concentrations on the distribution of animals.
Krill in East-Antarctica
In order to make fisheries policy directed at making sure that not too much is harvested, an assessment of the available stock is necessary. On the eastern side of the Antarctic continent there is currently no commercial harvesting of krill. In recent years, however, trial catches have been done directed towards the feasibility of a new fishery. The last krill stock assessment in this region was done by the Australians in 1996, during the BROKE expedition (Baseline Research on Oceanography, Krill and the Environment). In December, a new stock assessment of krill will be conducted on board the Japanese vessel Kaiyo-maru. Together with researchers from several Japanese, Chinese and American institutes, the status of the ecosystem will be re-investigated. This time, the SUIT will be used as well, in order to see if krill is concentrating in the surface waters during certain times, as was found in earlier studies. Apart from krill, other animals will be collected for further investigation.