NIWA’s research vessel the Tangaroa went on an 8-week voyage to the Ross Sea to survey the marine environment and explore biodiversity in the region. The journey from February until mid-March 2008 took place during the International Polar Year (IPY) – a global scientific programme designed to better understand the land and sea environments of the Arctic and Antarctic and the effects climate change has on them.

The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) is one of many international research programmes that falls under the IPY umbrella.

This multi-national research project involves 23 countries in 11 co-ordinated voyages, to survey marine life and habitats around Antarctica. CAML is one of the broader Census of Marine Life (CoML) projects, which aim to determine the diversity of marine species across all oceans and depths by 2010.

The voyage was also part of Oceans Survey 20/20 – a New Zealand Government ocean mapping project – a major collaboration between Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Antarctica New Zealand, Te Papa, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and New Zealand universities.

What did the voyage involve?

Following 6 days of transit time from Wellington down to the Ross Sea, the research vessel (RV) Tangaroa commenced sampling in the southernmost part of the survey area during the period of time when the seasonal ice is least extensive. The plan was to sample across the Ross Sea shelf as far east as the ice conditions allowed.

Nature of science

Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of evidence, the use of logical reasoning and the application of imagination in forming a hypothesis and explanations that make sense of the collected evidence.

Towards the end of the voyage, RV Tangaroa moved north again towards deeper water (the ‘abyss’) and sampled some seamounts in the Admiralty seamount range and around Scott Island.

On a daily basis, the scientists on board worked in with the skipper and crew to agree on the plan for the day. Each person had a well defined role and assisted with a range of tasks including sifting through mud samples, sorting and identifying fish and squid, and storing tissue samples in liquid nitrogen for genetic studies. Meet some of the 44-person crew in the article People on board.

The sorting, labelling and storage of samples and data collected formed a major part of the workload during the voyage, and it was very important that everyone paid attention to detail so that the post-voyage analyses could be maximised. Find out how scientists process water samples and look at some of the animals they found near the sea floor.

The vessel followed strict protocols regarding the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and Antarctic protocols associated with conducting research from a vessel in the area.

Capturing the feel of the voyage and the research

During the 8-week journey, crew members wrote about their experiences. Their blogs, images and videos cover the adventure and the science a trip like this entails. Highlights include:

Take up the challenge

Make the voyage come to life with student activities.

A day on the IPY-CAML voyage, Investigating data from the RV Tangaroa and Multibeam seafloor survey have great literacy and numeracy links.

Hiding in plain sightSaline currents and Making a food web provide hands-on experiences.

Useful links

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ): www.linz.govt.nz

Ministry of Fisheries: www.mpi.govt.nz/fisheries

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: www.mfat.govt.nz

Antarctica New Zealand: www.antarcticanz.govt.nz

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa: www.tepapa.govt.nz

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA): www.niwa.cri.nz

The vessel Tangaroa: www.niwa.co.nz/our-science/vessels/tangaroa

International Polar Year (IPY): http://classic.ipy.org/about

Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML): www.caml.aq

Census of Marine Life (CoML) projects: www.coml.org

More information about the focus on biodiversity of this voyage: www.biodiversity.govt.nz/seas/biodiversity/programmes/bioross.html

Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR): www.ccamlr.org/en

    Published 3 December 2007