published on 21 January 2019 in water

Studying climate change under sea ice

Climate changes can be studied under the ice cap too. This is the aim of the  ‘Ice-ClimaLizers’ project, which has created a laboratory at a depth of 25.5 metres in the freezing waters of the Ross Sea in Antarctica to study climate change by observing the growth of coral algae and small invertebrates. The project is coordinated by ENEA and conducted as part of the 34th Italian expedition in Antarctica, in collaboration with two CNR institutes (Marine Sciences in Bologna and Marine Engineering in Genoa), the Oceanographic Institute of Sopot (Poland), the University of Portsmouth and the Natural History Museum in London (United Kingdom) and the University of Bergundy (France). Funded by the National Programme of Antarctic Research (PNRA), Ice-ClimaLizers (Antarctic biomineralizers as proxies of climate change) is the first Italian project on climate centred on the growth of calcium carbonate skeletons in Antarctic organisms as indicators of climate change and in particular of acidification of the oceans.
The changing climate has effects on all environmental sectors, therefore in seas and oceans too, and on the creatures that live in them. In particular, the southern ocean may be subjected to the effects of increased acidification. Knowing the response of coral algae and small invertebrates to changes in environmental conditions is essential for protecting and safeguarding biodiversity, especially in an area like the Ross Sea, which became a Protected Area in 2017.

Cages and multi-parameter probes positioned at a depth of 25.5 metres in Tethys Bay, Ross Sea in Antarctica. Credits: ENEA

Twelve cages fitted with light and temperature sensors have been built; the species are placed in them after being marked with non-toxic substances to indicate the beginning of the experiment. These cages have then been placed inside an aluminium structure made by the technicians at the Mario Zucchelli Italian Antarctic station. A probe that will record the main environmental data (pH, temperature, oxygen, light intensity, conductivity) has been placed inside this structure.

The variety and extraordinary adaptation of Antarctic species make the South Pole an ideal environment for adaptive type research. Of Antarctic calcifying organisms, briozoa and coralline algae are of specific interest for their qualities as bioindicators and promoters of biodiversity, besides having a recognised potential as target organisms in research on climate change.

The cages and multi-parameter probe will be removed at the end of 2019, and the data of the organisms will be compared with the environmental data recorded by the probe to validate the function of the mineral skeletons as indicators of climate change, but also to understand their potential for adaptation in the oceans of the future.

With the sponsorship of the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research
Eni S.p.A. - P.IVA 00905811006