The ability of the Southern Ocean to take up CO2, and to sustain marine life such as krill, fish and whales, is dependent on the growth, abundance and distribution of microscopic marine plants or 'phytoplankton', as well as protozoa and bacteria.
During BROKE-West, marine biologists will collect and analyse water samples to determine the growth rate of these organisms, the photosynthetic rate of phytoplankton (and therefore the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere), the grazing activity of protozoa (which eat phytoplankton and bacteria) and how many of these organisms there are. These studies will help to determine how much food is available to krill and, subsequently, higher predators. It will also enable scientists to gauge the CO2-absorbing capacity of this region of the Southern Ocean. Through microscopic examination, the team will also build a picture of the microbial communities in the region. Subsequent modelling of these communities will allow them to predict their responses to climate change.