First antFOCE Field Season Ends Successfully (March 23, 2015)

From: Jonny Stark 
Date: Monday, March 23, 2015 at 4:34 AM

Subject: antFOCE field season ends successfully


Dear friends and colleagues

Its with great pleasure (and no small amount of relief) that I can announce that the first antFOCE experiment has finished successfully, well at least the field component! The antFOCE field team spent over 4 months at Casey Station setting up, deploying, running and sampling the first polar FOCE experiment. Thanks to the efforts of the many involved the season went extremely well, and even after a 3 week delay to arriving at Casey we managed to run the system for about 9 weeks, with the actual experiment running for about 8 weeks. There were many challenges along the way, from environmental to technical to logistical but the team always managed to find a way to make it work. The weather ranged from -10C to heavy snows to strong winds (over 100 knots!) while at the other extreme we had some very warm weather inducing horrendous melt conditions making travel to the site extremely difficult over the local ice sheet, which at times more closely resembled a river delta than ice. At times it was preferable to be underwater diving than standing around on the surface freezing. There were a few technical issues including random generator stops, faulty thrusters and some dodgy power connections. On the logistic front we had to contend with the daily struggle for enough vehicles to get us to the site. But it all came together and after many frozen sandwiches and blocks of chocolate, its all over.

The final weeks of the field season were dedicated to the massive task of sampling the chambers and open plots, which took a full week of diving everyday to complete. In all over 1200 samples of many types were taken and over 200 individual dives were done as part of the antFOCE experiment. The very last week was spent removing all the equipment from the seabed (with very minimal disturbance), and surface infrastructure, lugging it back to station and cleaning and packing it all up for return to Australia late this year. All the samples had to be processed in the Casey labs and preserved in many different ways to be packed and returned on the final flight of the season, along with the field team. We all arrived back in Tassie on March 11th and have been enjoying the last of the Ozzie summer, a nice change from frozen fingers and standing around all day on the sea ice.

Of course a huge amount of work remains to be done before we have any results, but there are some encouraging indications from the mini-chamber component (the 24-48 hour experiments in the small chambers that could be connected up to the main system). The focus of these short term experiments was on microphytobenthos (benthic diatoms – including their photosynthesis and vertical migration) and it appears that the acidification induced a response from these communities of microalgae, possibly making them migrate deeper into the sediment than in the control treatments – but more work is required to confirm this preliminary result. But it is an encouraging sign for the rest of the experiment in terms of detecting potential effects of acidification.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the many, many people involved in making this experiment and field season possible, and in particular our wonderful field team for all their hard work over the past months. There are too many to individually thank but there are two who deserve a special mention: Glenn Johnstone who did an awesome job as the project manager for the field season; and Donna Roberts, whose original vision for an Antarctic FOCE has come to fruition, even if she was unfortunate not to be there and sadly lost her job and left science – a huge loss to science!

I will be contacting collaborators in the near future to begin the process of sample processing and analysis – once my fingers and toes have defrosted!

Thanks and cheers


PS for those in Australia – antFOCE and other AAD led OA research will feature on Catalyst on ABC1 on Tuesday 24th March at 8pm.


Dr Jonathan Stark

Senior Research Scientist - Marine Ecology

Antarctic Conservation and Management

Australian Antarctic Division

Channel Hwy

Kingston 7050