Collaborating under the ice

Ian Hawes has spent 40 years diving in Antarctica to gain an understanding of how inland and coastal aquatic ecosystems work. Now, he is sharing his knowledge with Korea’s Antarctic programme.

University of Waikato Ecologist Professor Ian Hawes, and the teams he works with, study the life that lives on the sea floor, under the ice, from bacteria to starfish, soft coral to seaweed.

Over the past forty years he has noticed the way people think about Antarctica and how the scientific approach to Antarctica has changed.

“When we started out, science was largely focussed on looking at things for the first time. We didn’t necessarily understand how dynamic the Antarctic environment is. Now we can ask more specific and complex questions to increase our understanding” says Dr Hawes.

Hawes and his team are interested in how living organisms and their environment interact, and the difference between natural variability versus the environmental factors that cause change to Antarctica’s coastal ecosystem.

“Antarctica is the engine of the global climate, coastal ecosystems are the canary in the climate coalmine. They are vulnerable and are some of the first things that we anticipate will show the effects of a changing climate” says Dr Hawes.

In a joint research programme with the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), Hawes is helping to establish a series of baseline monitoring transects and an environmental monitoring station on the sea floor near the Korean Jan Bogo Station at Terra Nova Bay. The monitoring station will obtain year-round observations including temperature, light and water quality to monitor how the environment is changing.

The baseline monitoring transects are a type of census looking at the abundance of marine life located along a 25 metre line at any one time. The New Zealand team, and their Korean counterparts, will be diving to around 25 metres to set-up new transects close to the Korean research station. In future seasons they can return and re-video the marine life that lies along these lines to develop an understanding of how they are changing.

Antarctica New Zealand Acting Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr Fiona Shanhun, sees benefit in the two nations collaborating.

“International partnerships are the foundation of Antarctic research. It’s fantastic to see nations with shared scientific interests collaborating to better understand our planet,” Dr Shanhun says.