2017 NZARI funded projects
"Southern right whales as indicators of Southern Ocean productivity" Professor Stephen Dawson and Dr William Rayment (University of Otago)
Right whale mothers give birth to calves weighing around 1500kg, yet they do not feed for the several weeks they are on the breeding grounds. This extraordinary demand for energy is met from reserves accumulated in foraging areas, where they feed on copepods and small krill, which in turn feed on phytoplankton – the base of the Southern Ocean food web. Primary productivity is driven by oceanic conditions, which are profoundly influenced by climate change. We will study how climate-driven variations in productivity affects the condition and breeding success of right whales, measured using specially-equipped drones, in the Sub Antarctic Auckland Islands.
"The offshore air mass journey and interaction with the Ross Sea surfaces: A process-based investigation of regional climate influenced by mesocyclones" Dr Marwan Katurji (University of Canterbury)
The coastal areas of Antarctica have been at the forefront of disruption due to climate change. Understanding mechanisms that cause regional climate change are therefore vital in assessing coastal impacts. This research aims to expand our knowledge for the Ross Sea Region’s unique environment, by understanding the interplay between the constant outflow from the cold continental air mass, sea ice variability, and warmer and moister circumpolar oceanic air masses. This interaction is key to the generation of localized weather patterns, which provide significant regional variability in precipitation and temperature over the Ross Sea Region that impact Antarctic ecosystems. Requires logistical support from Antarctica New Zealand
"Taking the measure of winter sea ice from beneath, within and above" Dr Greg Leonard (University of Otago)
The expansion of Antarctic sea ice in a warming ocean has been puzzling climate scientists for decades. Solving this problem is complex as sea ice forms in winter when it is very difficult to measure it. This project represents a unique step towards developing an autonomous system to monitor how ocean circulation, melting ice sheets, snow fall and air temperatures combine to influence the sea ice near the Antarctic coast. By sending data back to New Zealand in real-time, we will develop the capability to do this work remotely in a variety of critical locations throughout the harsh Antarctic winter. Requires logistical support from Antarctica New Zealand
"Potential for non-linear, threshold-driven response of Antarctic outlet glaciers; insights from David Glacier, Antarctica" Associate Professor Andrew Mackintosh (Victoria University of Wellington)
Antarctic outlet glaciers can be thought of as giant taps that control ice flow between the ice sheet interior and the coast. If the taps are opened fully, Antarctica may experience rapid, irreversible ice loss in coming centuries, resulting in greater-than-anticipated sea-level rise. Outlet glaciers have been observed by satellites for under 50 years, making it challenging to predict their future behaviour. We will use a transformative geological dating technique to extend the period of outlet glacier observations from decades to millennia. This will provide specific insights into the mechanisms that will drive societally-relevant outlet glacier retreat in the future.
"Secrets under the ice: Is McMurdo Sound a spawning area for Antarctic toothfish?" Dr Steve Parker (NIWA) and Dr Laura Ghigliotti (Institute of Marine Sciences, Italy)
Scientists know that the Ross Sea toothfish population spawns on the northern hills and seamounts in the Ross Sea, and conservation actions have focused on protecting that area as the spawning ground. But is that the only place? Recent studies have shown that the toothfish inhabiting McMurdo Sound have the same characteristics as those spawning in the northern Ross Sea, but different from those on the nearby Ross Sea shelf and slope. To find out, scientists must collect samples from McMurdo Sound toothfish during the spawning season, which entails sampling through the sea ice in the middle of winter. Requires logistical support from Antarctica New Zealand
"On thin ice? An in situ surveillance system for sea-ice microbial communities" Associate Professor Ken Ryan (Victoria University of Wellington) and Dr Andrew Martin (University of Tasmania)
The predicted loss of annual Antarctic sea ice (est. between 17% - 31%) within the next century will influence the ecological integrity of the Southern Ocean. Sea ice supports a unique assemblage of microorganisms that form the basic food supply for Antarctic coastal food-webs. Reduced ice thickness coupled with increased snow cover will modify energy flow through the food web in ways that are difficult to predict. This project will deploy state-of-the-art biological sensors to track the abundance and physiological stress levels in the sea-ice microbial community. This in situ surveillance system will allow a larger scale understanding of the distribution and cell health of these primary producers and provide baseline data against which future changes in ecosystem structure and function can be measured. Requires logistical support from Antarctica New Zealand
2016 NZARI funded projects
Professor Stephen Dawson (University of Otago) “Sentinels of the Southern Ocean: measuring nutritional condition of right whales using remotely piloted multi-rotor aircraft”
To measure how environmental change affects recovering whale populations, we need a way to measure nutritional condition, essentially, body shape. Right whales store energy as blubber. Hence their condition reflects food availability in the Southern Ocean, and must affect breeding and population recovery. Aerial photography allows measurement of whale size and shape, but at high cost. New drone technology offers a practical and inexpensive solution. We have adapted small multicopters (four and six rotor) to carry calibrated cameras, and will use these to measure the condition of right whales breeding at New Zealand’s Auckland Islands.
Professor Ian Hawes (University of Canterbury) and Dr Susie Wood (Cawthron Institute) “Shining a light in the darkness: Winter science in the McMurdo Dry Valleys”
Despite decades of intensive research in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, little is known about how these unique ecosystems function in winter. During winter many parts of the Dry Valleys freeze and are presumed inactive, but others retain liquid water and microbial processes are ongoing. Over winter instrumentation can describe some summer-winter changes, but physical access is required to sample biological communities and measure processes. This project will provide insight and allow us to determine how winter dynamics of carbon, nutrients and dissolved gases influence the structure and functioning of Antarctic ecosystems in order to better understand and predict responses to change. Logistics support
Associate Professor Miles Lamare (University of Otago), Associate Professor Mary Sewell (University of Auckland), Associate Professor Bruno Danis (Universite Lbre de Bruxelles), and Dr Antonio Aguera Garcia (Universite Libre Bruxelles) “Transgenerational Plasticity (TGP) in polar invertebrates as mechanism of adapting to a warmer more acidic coastal Antarctic”
Antarctic coastal seas will warm and acidify over the coming decades, and understanding the capacity of polar marine species to adapt to change is vital to predict the future of Antarctic marine ecosystems. Transgenerational plasticity, TGP (where offspring responses to warming reflect parental experiences and hence their ability to persist under climate change) is one mechanism for adaptation, yet there is limited understanding of this key process for polar species. Here, we will quantify TGP in a sea star Odontaster validus, an important predator of the coastal Antarctic, to understand if polar species have the capacity to rapidly adapt in the face of climate change. Logistics support
Dr Phil Lyver (Landcare Research) “Mercury contamination in Adélie and emperor penguins in the Ross Sea: latitudinal, temporal, sexual, age and inter-specific differences”
The oceans of the southern hemisphere, in particular the Southern Ocean, are considered the least contaminated marine ecosystems on earth. However, a changing climate combined with increased emissions of heavy metals from rapidly growing economies in Asia, Africa and South America raises the threat of long-range atmospheric transport and deposition of mercury in the Antarctic. To understand the risk of mercury exposure for top predators in the Ross Sea, we will assess the differences in spatial, temporal, sexual, age and inter-specific concentrations of mercury in Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae) and emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in relation to their respective positions in the food web. Logistics support
Dr Adam Martin (GNS Science) “Past Antarctic ice sheet characteristics and stability deduced from lava—ice interactions at Mason Spur, Mount Morning volcano, McMurdo Sound, during mid-Late Miocene climatic warmth”
Antarctica abounds in volcanoes and ice, and exciting new research is showing that when the two interact, the resulting rock forms can record the unique environment at that time. Through interpretation of lava—ice interaction forms, scientists can deduce past thicknesses and variations in thermal regime (a measure of stability) of Antarctica’s ice sheet. In particular, evidence obtained at Mason Spur volcano will provide uniquely valuable information for the mid Miocene Climatic Optimum, when atmospheric CO2 levels were comparable to modern day. This information is vital for validating models of climate and sea level changes that will affect New Zealand. Logistics support
Dr Phil Novis (Landcare Research) “Testing predicted tolerances of Antarctic non-marine biota across all trophic levels”
Predictions of how organisms will respond to changing climate often presumes their current distributions are to some extent defined by their basic life functions. However, we have little evidence of a significant relationship between life function adaptions of Antarctic microbes and their distribution across Antarctic environments. Using high throughput environmental sequencing of frozen legacy samples originating from across the Ross Sea Region, we will characterise distributions of biota along environmental gradients, and compare them with tolerances determined with laboratory cultures. Our proposal involves New Zealand, US and Korean researchers, and is relevant to the new SCAR programs ANTOS, AntEco, and AnT-ERA.
Professor David Prior (University of Otago) and Professor Christina Hulbe (University of Otago) “Past and future deformation of the Ross Ice Shelf”
The response of the Antarctic ice sheet to global warming will have a big impact on global sea level, ocean circulation and climate. The internal temperature of the ice and the alignment of ice crystals are key controls on the rate of ice flow towards the ocean. We will send sound waves through the ice to a string of sensors in a borehole in the Ross Ice Shelf to map patterns of temperature and crystal alignment. These data will allow us to make much better predictions of how the Antarctic ice sheet will respond to global warming. Logistics support
Postdoctoral Research Award:
Dr Quentin Jossart (University of Auckland) “Out of Antarctica: implications of extensive gene flow and multiple reproductive modes on the resilience of a Southern Ocean brittle star”
This project will verify the generalisation of the “out of Antarctica” event (fauna originating from Antarctica that has then migrated to sub-Antarctic and temperate areas) in the brittle star Astrotoma agassizii. Using both morphological and genetic approaches, we will measure the past and present dispersal patterns occurring among Antarctica and warmer waters. This information is primordial in order to evaluate the capacity of this species to respond to environmental change.
Recent observations and modelling show that collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be underway, with the potential to dramatically contribute meltwater to the oceans. During a previous period of global warming ~14000 years ago, some geological records and computer model simulations suggest that a large Antarctic meltwater release caused a Southern Hemisphere climatic response known as the ‘Antarctic Cold Reversal’. Using state-of-the-art glacier- and climate-modelling tools, we aim to identify the cause of this non-linear climatic response. This will allow us to assess whether future Antarctic melting could have similar, unexpected consequences for New Zealand climate.
"West Antarctic Glacier Loss Appears Unstoppable" (NASA News June 2014). Recent studies show that this melting, driven by ocean warming, has reached the point of no return. Because Antarctica can significantly increase global sea level, this dates-than-expected phenomenon is a real concern for the future. Our proposed work is to improve the understanding of the ice-ocean interactions during the last super-glacial (1 million years ago) when Antarctica partially melted due to ocean warming. Using organic geochemical proxies, we will identify the temperature threshold for melting ice-shelves and the magnitude of the phenomenon, aiming to provide crucial data to simulate future scenarios.
Interfacing human impact assessment and social valuation of climate sensitive landforms in the Ross Sea Region - Dr Barbara Bollard Breen, Institute for Applied Ecology, Professor Mark Orams, NZ Tourism Research Institute and Professor Steve Pointing, Institute for Applied Ecology – Auckland University of Technology
Conservation outcomes in the Ross Sea Region are limited by resources for monitoring past and cumulative effects of human impacts on vulnerable ecosystems and a lack of understanding of the relationships between visitor values and the environment. Our team are leaders in the development of novel "zero-harm' remote survey tools for conservation solutions. This research will provide high resolution spatial maps of vulnerable habitats obtained from unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and spatial analysis software developed specifically for use in harsh Antarctic environments. We will interface these data with site specific visitor values to understand human interactions with Antarctic sites, thus providing solution-focused outcomes to conserve Antarctic landforms at risk from climate change.
The seasonal growth and decay in sea ice coverage is arguably the largest natural annual geophysical change on the planet, with the shrinking Arctic ice being one of the clearest manifestations of climate change. But why is this shrinking Arctic ice not paralleled in the Antarctic? We are researching the possibility that the answer lies in the production of supercooled seawater beneath the giant Antarctic ice shelves that make up 40% of Antarctica’s coastline. This water is very cold but also slightly fresh. As it leaves the cavity and enters the polar ocean, it spreads out as a cold surface layer promoting sea ice growth far beyond the Antarctic coast. We will combine new approaches to turbulence and ice crystal measurement to aid in better computer predictions. The field campaign will also include an art-science-education thread to better engage young minds with aspects of Antarctic science less often encountered in the media.
Constraining Antarctica’s contribution to past global sea level rise in Northern Victoria Land and the Western Ross Sea - Dr Kevin Norton, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences – Victoria University of Wellington
Understanding past, non-linear changes in ice sheets are important for predicting their future response. Antarctica may have been a source of a dramatic sea-level rise ~14,600 years ago, when the Earth’s climate transitioned from a glacial to warm climate. Outlet glaciers in Northern Victoria Land would have recorded the onset of this possible ice sheet collapse. We will use numerical models to understand the sensitivity of this sector of the ice sheet to environmental forcing and exposure dating techniques to precisely determine the timing and contribution of ice sheet loss from this region to sea level rise.
Reconstructing the history of the Ross Ice Shelf since the Last Glacial Maximum - Dr Christian Ohneiser, Department of Geology and Dr Christina Riesselman, Department of Marine Science – University of Otago
Rising ocean temperatures may soon destabilise the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will result in sea-level rise and changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that will have a profound impact on New Zealand. The Ross Ice Shelf protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from the warming ocean. Because little is known about past Ross Ice Shelf behaviour predictions of its future stability are challenging. We will reconstruct the Ross Ice Shelf history since the last ice age using seafloor sediment cores from the Ross Sea. Our reconstruction will test computer models of past change in order to improve forecast models.
2014 NZARI funded projects
Stratospheric transport, in particular barriers to transport, largely determine the distribution of radiatively active gases (e.g. ozone) and their fingerprint on the warming of the atmosphere. These processes are often not well simulated in atmosphere-ocean global climate models. This year, hundreds of long-duration stratospheric balloons will be flown by Google to provide internet access to remote locations. We will use the balloon position data to reveal in unprecedented detail the transport processes and small-scale turbulent diffusion processes that are active in the southern high-latitude stratosphere. Our research will add to fundamental understanding of stratospheric dynamics and its role in the Antarctic climate.
Sea ice is of global significance, playing important roles in ocean circulation and the functioning of polar ecosystems. However, inaccessibility of the sea ice makes it hard to quantify its properties at meaningful spatial scales. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) have the potential to measure horizontal variability in sea ice properties at near centimetre resolution along kilometres of track-line, offering a fundamentally
new approach to sea ice research. Our project will develop and apply new AUV instrumentation for estimating some particularly important and spatially variable properties of sea ice namely the irradiance below and biomass of algae within the ice.
Increases in the area of Antarctic sea ice are a puzzling trend in a warming world, especially when compared to decreases in the Arctic. Unfortunately, climate models have difficulty in reproducing this Antarctic
trend which casts doubt on the predictions. Changes in weather patterns over the Ross Sea that promotes ice production and pushes the sea ice away from the Antarctic coast may be poorly simulated in global models and therefore offer a potential solution to modelling this problem. Our research aims to test this possibility and determine whether small scale circulation changes are the missing piece in the sea ice puzzle.
A group of New Zealand and international researchers will investigate the response of the ocean between Antarctica and New Zealand to the most recent warm period of the early Holocene, 12,000–6,000 years ago. The early Holocene is the most recent time in which southwest Pacific temperatures were within the range predicted for the coming century (2-4°C warmer than present), thus is an analogue for the future climate in this region. This study will generate new ocean temperature and primary productivity data of the ocean's surface during this warm interval and use this data to test the output of computer generated climate models.
Postglacial changes in the location and intensity of the southern westerly winds, sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands - Dr Christopher Moy, Geology Department, University of Otago; Dr Marcus Vandergoes, GNS Science and Dr Matthew McGlone, Landcare Research
The strength and latitudinal position of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds play a fundamental role in influencing New Zealand's climate and carbon dioxide exchange between the Southern Ocean and the atmosphere. We plan to reconstruct past changes in the winds by applying a suite of geochemical and fossil proxy methods to peat, lake and marine sediment cores collected from the Auckland Islands (NZ sub-Antarctic) at the centre of the present day wind field. Our proposed work will improve fundamental understanding of how the westerlies drive climate and carbon cycle changes in the Southern Ocean.
Predicting rapid retreat of the Antarctic ice sheet and sea level rise involves fully understanding how ice flows across the transition between grounded and floating ice, an area known as the grounding zone. Although often inaccessible for direct measurements, continuous tidal bending of ice in this area can be precisely mapped by new satellites. The observed bending pattern holds a key to understanding how ice sheet thickness reacts to warming oceans. A new team of international experts will uncover important details about ice sheet bending for better prediction of ice flow at the grounding line and sea level changes.
Transitions naturally occur between one ecosystem type and another such as along shorelines of oceans or at forest edges. These transitions are called 'ecotones' and are ideal for studying the physical, chemical and biological responses to climate changes. This project will focus on assessing the Mackay Glacier ecotone which sits between two biogeographic regions at the northern edge of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. This project will examine the distribution and genetic variability among populations of a range of invertebrates. Using this information we can enhance our capacity to detect subtle biotic responses resulting from climate changes.
2013 NZARI funded projects
The phenomenon of Polar Amplification occurs due to processes in the climate system that amplify the amount of warming in the high-latitudes compared to the global average. Polar amplification is a consistent feature of climate model projections, recent instrumental temperature observations, and model simulations and temperature reconstructions using geological archives of past warmer climates. It is of concern due to the effect of the warming on ice sheet stability and therefore global sea level, as well as carbon-cycle feedbacks such as those linked with permafrost thawing. We will produce a “state-of-play” synthesis of the current understanding of past, present and future polar amplification and its potential consequences.
NZARI has assembled an international team of past climate experts to study environmental conditions in New Zealand’s southern regions from a period in Earth’s past when CO2 concentrations were similar to those our planet will experience in the next five years. This team will examine rock and sediment cores obtained from beneath the Southern Ocean to determine how it changed as CO2 levels increased and what impact these changes had on Antarctica’s ice sheets.
We will develop a new method to simulate the evolution of the Antarctic ozone layer and its coupling to the southern high latitude climate system. The chemistry-climate models currently used to project changes in Antarctic ozone and its effects on climate are extremely computationally demanding and cannot provide ensembles of simulations spanning the range of uncertainty required for policy-relevant decision making. We will build a fast emulator of these complex models by extending a state-of-the-art simple climate model with a novel semi-empirical module that describes the key processes governing stratospheric ozone. This semi-empirical model is trained on real world observations.
Antarctic coastal seas will warm and acidify over the coming decades, and the capacity of polar marine species to adapt to change will drive the make up and functioning of future polar populations. Capacity to adapt will depend in genetic variation within a species and how this variation equates to resilience to change in more tolerant individuals. We aim to quantify this adaptive capacity, and to understand if rates of change in polar environments are within the threshold capacity of species to adapt. Understanding both will reduce uncertainty around the fate of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.
Response of Bindshadler and MacAyeal Ice Stream grounding zone to iceberg calving events and implications for future change in West Antarctica - Prof Christina Hulbe, School of Surveying - University of Otago
We propose to study ice shelf and grounding zone response to large iceberg calving at the eastern front of the Ross Ice Shelf using a combination of observational data and mathematical models. The location is ideal for this investigation because it has experienced recent change and the grounding line there is relatively close to the shelf front. The investigation will lead to improved understanding of time scales and magnitudes of response in a real, three-dimensional setting, an important objective for projecting change in West Antarctica on time scales of social relevance.
Climate change and commercial fishing are two potential drivers of change in the Ross Sea, but our ability to predict or manage impacts is limited by lack of information. Antarctic top predators integrate complex changes in the physical and biological conditions affecting their food resources, which makes them ideal sentinels for the state of the Ross Sea ecosystem. We will study the food requirements of killer whales, Weddell seals and Adélie penguins to provide reference points for detecting future change and to identify what food resources are critical to these predators to allow responsible environmental stewardship of the Ross Sea.
Understanding and projecting how terrestrial Antarctica will respond to climate change is essential for managing the pristine continent. A number of biologically driven measures of change (i.e., biometrics) are identified, but our knowledge on their underlying processes is lacking, and their applicability in Antarctica requires validation. We propose to carry out field- and laboratory based experiments incorporating cutting-edge technologies, including the world’s first Dry Valley Simulation Chambers, to address fundamental questions related to these biometrics. Our findings will contribute to basic knowledge for Antarctic ecosystems and lay foundation for an international observation network to monitor and ecoforecast impacts of climate change.