Future ocean experiment - under ice and underway

The site of the experiment at O'Brien Bay near Australia's Casey station
The site of the experiment at O'Brien Bay near Australia's Casey station (Photo: Kristin Raw)
A diver prepares for an icy diveA diver makes last minute adjustments to his mask before diving through the iceDiver ready to descend under the iceDiver under the sea ice with experimental chamber on the seafloorThe ducting carrying acidified sea water to the chambersThruster tubes attached to the ducting

A maze of ducts, tubes, thrusters and chambers have been carefully lowered through the Antarctic sea ice onto the sea floor near Australia’s Casey station as part of a world-first experiment on ocean acidification.

It’s taken the team of scientists, engineers and divers several weeks to set-up the equipment for the study looking at increasing levels of carbon dioxide in sea water and its effect on sea floor plants and animals.

Project Leader, Dr Jonny Stark, said it’s been a challenging period with the “A factor”, blizzards, delays and technical difficulties, slowing progress.

“It’s a real testament to the team’s determination and dedication that we’ve managed to get the experiment up and running despite all the difficulties Antarctica can throw at you,” Dr Stark said.

“First we drilled through three metre thick, multi-year ice in O’Brien Bay to gain access to the sea floor.

“The divers then had to manhandle the two-metre long acrylic chambers as well as dozens of metres of pipes, tubes and thrusters through the ice and into position without disturbing the area.”

Sea water with elevated levels of carbon dioxide, is now being pumped through the chambers and researchers are measuring any changes.

“The equipment will now run continuously for eight weeks and we will focus on the areas where we expect to see the most change over this time frame,” Dr Stark said.

The ocean is predicted to become two and a half times more acidic by 2100 under the current “business as usual” emissions scenario.

The Southern Ocean absorbs 40% of the global ocean uptake of carbon dioxide and polar waters are acidifying at twice the rate of tropical waters.

More information

Latest news on the team blog.

Antarctic scientists create “future ocean”.

Ocean acidification experiment homepage.