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  • richardmitnick 1:51 pm on September 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), , , , , ,   

    From EPFL: “Unexpected facets of Antarctica emerge from the labs” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    Sarah Perrin

    the Akademik Treshnikov Russian icebreaker

    Six months after the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition ended, the teams that ran the 22 scientific projects are hard at work sorting through the many samples they collected. Some preliminary findings were announced during a conference in Crans Montana organized by the Swiss Polar Institute, who just appointed Konrad Steffen as new scientific director (see the interview below).

    Nearly 30,000 samples were taken during the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE). And now, barely six months after the voyage ended, the research teams tasked with analyzing the samples have already produced some initial figures and findings. These were presented in Crans Montana during a conference put together earlier this week by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), the EPFL-based entity that ran the expedition. The event, called “High altitudes meet high latitudes,” brought together world-renowned experts in polar and alpine research in an exercise aimed at highlighting the many similarities between these two fields of study.

    Over the course of three months – from December 2016 to March 2017 – 160 researchers from 23 different countries sailed around the Great White Continent on board a Russian icebreaker. They ran 22 research projects in an effort to learn more about the impact of climate change on these fragile and little-known regions. The valuable samples, taken from the Southern Ocean, the atmosphere and a handful of remote islands, are now back at the labs of the 73 scientific institutions involved in the expedition.

    The route of the ACE expedition.

    Most of the teams that ran the 22 projects are still carrying out the preliminary task of sorting through and identifying the samples, which means the initial results are necessarily incomplete and provisional. It is only later that the samples will be analyzed. Some important observations can nevertheless be made at this stage.

    A solid database

    The sum total of the samples collected represents an impressive and valuable database. The SPI must now come up with ways to organize, group and present the data so that researchers can readily access and make use of it. What’s more, “the large number of potential collaborations and exchanges between projects is becoming clear,” says David Walton, the chief scientist on the expedition. “Some research projects have been found to have links with as much as nine others.” And some startling figures have already been released – here is a look at just a few of them.

    For the SubIce project, around 100 meters of ice cores were taken on five subantarctic islands and the Mertz Glacier, which sits on the edge of the Antarctic continent. The chemical composition of the cores will be analyzed in an attempt to trace climate change over recent decades. In some places, like Balleny, Peter 1st or Bouvet Islands, it was the first time an ice sample had ever been taken. “Of all the islands where we were able to take samples, that last one was the farthest from the continent,” says Liz Thomas, from British Antarctic Survey. “It’s also the island where the ice in the samples is the most granular. Our findings confirm significant seasonal variations at this location.”

    The air on the continent is so pure that even the hottest cup of tea does not produce any steam. “No particles, no clouds,” explains Julia Schmale, a researcher with the Paul-Scherrer-Institute who measured for aerosols – tiny chemical particles like grains of sand, dust, pollen, soot, sulfuric acid, and so on – throughout the expedition. These particles attach to water molecules and aggregate to form clouds. On Mertz Glacier, her measurements revealed aerosol levels below 100 particles per cm3, which is less than the level found in a cleanroom.

    Christel Hassler and her team, from the University of Geneva, studied bacteria and virus populations in the Southern Ocean. The team took some 170 samples from all around the continent. For the time being, their work consists in isolating and culturing the numerous cells found in the samples. “We will then analyze their DNA in order to identify them,” says Marion Fourquez, a marine biologist. “That will show us whether we have come across any new bacterial strains that have yet never been observed in this region.”

    Bacteria collected on the sedimental floor beneath Mertz glacier, on the Antarctic continent, as part of Christel Hassler’s project (University of Geneva). ©M.Fourquez.

    One of the subsequent lines of research will be to determine their geographical distribution. The researchers will be able to tell if there’s a link between the presence of a given bacterium and that of other microorganisms by comparing their data with data from other projects, like Nicolas Cassar’s. Cassar, from Duke University in the United States, measured concentrations of phytoplankton, which sit at the very bottom of the region’s food chain. “This approach worked out well, and we have nearly continuous samples from along the entire route,” says Walton.

    More than 3,000 whales

    Brian Miller, from the Australian Antarctic Division, was interested in somewhat larger animals. For his project, he used a piece of sophisticated acoustic equipment to listen for and count the number of whales in the Southern Ocean. Walton notes: “In around 500 hours of recordings, the researchers counted for example over 3,000 individual blue whales, although we actually saw only three or so at the surface.” These cetaceans appear to be particularly plentiful in the depths of the Ross Sea.

    Peter Ryan, from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, observed and counted bird populations. He discovered that one of the largest colonies of king penguins, on Pig Island in the Crozet archipelago, had declined drastically – he estimates the numerical loss to be around 75%. “That’s around half a million animals,” says Walton. “We don’t know if they’ve died or migrated to other colonies, like the one in St. Andrews Bay, in South Georgia, which is actually in a growth phase.”

    More complete and detailed results will be published in the coming months.

    Detailed information on SPI and ACE can be found on http://spi-ace-expedition.ch


    “We urgently need to coordinate our efforts.”

    Konrad Steffen, a glaciologist and the new scientific director of the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), has been involved in polar research for the past 40 years. His work has focused primarily on the Arctic, particularly the changes taking place within Greenland’s ice sheet. He is also a professor at ETH Zurich and director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL.

    Professor Steffen, why is the Swiss Polar Institute so necessary today?

    Research in this field tended to be conducted by small groups that organized their own expeditions and ran their own projects. In Switzerland, there had never been any kind of initiative aimed at coordinating all this work. The effects of climate change on polar and alpine regions are now so evident that we urgently need to coordinate our efforts and conduct cross-disciplinary research. This is what we did with the ACE project, where researchers from fields like oceanography, glaciology and biology came together in an attempt to improve our understanding of the climate-change process in a region.

    What for you is the top priority when it comes to the polar regions?

    At the SPI, one of our aims is to devise a strategic plan within the scientific community. More personally, I think that we urgently need to assess the mass balance of ice sheets across the globe. That’s what will have the greatest and swiftest impact in terms of rising sea levels and changes to our coastlines. Instead of studying individual glaciers in the Alps, we need to look at the bigger picture and observe in detail how the atmosphere interacts with large ice sheets, such as those in Greenland and the Antarctic. We need to connect the dots to see how the system as a whole is affected.

    What made the ACE such an innovative expedition?

    There have been many scientific expeditions to the Antarctic, but they usually only cover part of the continent. This was the first time that an expedition went all the way around the continent in one three-month period, studying all the oceans during the same season. That provides a fuller picture of the issues, such as microplastics – during the trip, we really saw that they were everywhere! The expedition also served up attractive career opportunities for budding young scientists and enabled several research groups to establish long-term partnerships.

    Are any other expeditions in the pipeline?

    Yes, the next one is planned for 2019. The aim is to sail around Greenland. We are in the process of looking for a vessel and determining what sort of research will be undertaken during the trip.


    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

  • richardmitnick 8:58 am on December 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), , Three months in the Antarctic to unlock the secrets of our climate   

    From EPFL: “Three months in the Antarctic to unlock the secrets of our climate” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    Sarah Perrin

    The Russian scientific vessel Akademik Treshnikov. ©AARI

    The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), the first project run by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), will set sail this evening from South Africa. The Akademik Treshnikov is a Russian research vessel that has been chartered for this expedition. It will carry nearly 60 researchers around the southernmost continent on a data-gathering voyage in a bold initiative to improve our understanding of the impact of climate change in the Southern Ocean. A new chair – the Ingvar Kamprad Chair of Extreme Environments – will also be made official today.

    The time has come. The Akademik Treshnikov will leave the port of Cape Town, South Africa today on the three-month Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE). The imposing Russian research ship will carry over 120 people: some 60 researchers from 30 different countries and about the same number of crew members. In addition to circumnavigating Antarctica, they will visit around twelve subantarctic islands.

    This is the first project put together by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI). It was Frederik Paulsen, a businessman and major philanthropist, who came up with the idea. He is also providing the ACE expedition with logistical backing, drawing on his extensive experience in Arctic exploration. Additional support is being provided by Presence Switzerland, a unit of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

    The idea behind the ACE expedition is to measure and quantify the impact of environmental changes and pollution in the Southern Ocean. This region plays a key role in climate regulation: currents of icy water deep in the ocean travel from the poles toward the equator, while warm water and air move across the ocean’s surface towards the cold regions. The earth’s climate can thus be compared to a huge heat engine. This process of heat transfer between polar and tropical regions is also an important component of the carbon cycle and a key factor in the oceans’ ability to store CO2.

    “The poles are essential for climate balance, but they are also the regions where changes are most apparent: that’s where the largest temperature differences have been recorded,” said Philippe Gillet, vice president of EPFL, director ad interim of the SPI and a specialist in Earth and planetary science.

    From plankton to microplastics

    Twenty-two research projects will be run during this trip by teams from Switzerland, the UK, France and Australia, to name a few. The projects were selected by a panel of international experts following a call for proposals organized jointly by the polar institutes of eight countries: South Africa, France, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Norway, Russia and Switzerland.

    The projects cover a wide range of fields, including glaciology, climatology, biology and oceanography. The topics of study include wave formation, geographical variations in plankton populations, chemical exchanges between air and water, biodiversity on the islands, the ocean’s CO2 storage capacity, microplastic pollution and its impact on fauna, and an acoustic analysis of whale populations. This expedition will also build bridges between the various scientific fields. Not only will the researchers collaborate in their on-ship research, but they will build relationships that will set the stage for future collaborations at the international level.

    The first Maritime University successfully completed

    The ACE expedition was preceded by the ACE Maritime University. Fifty students studying marine and earth sciences at universities around the world took part. They boarded the Akademik Treshnikov on 19 November in Bremerhaven, in northern Germany, and reached Cape Town on 15 December. The young researchers took intensive theory-oriented classes and then engaged in hands-on practicals that taught them different sampling and analytical techniques and how to handle basic instruments. The students also used this opportunity to learn about their peers’ work in other fields.

    A chair for the study of extreme environments

    The SPI also has a new chair, which will be formalized today in Cape Town. The Ingvar Kamprad Chair of Extreme Environments will be supported by Ferring Pharmaceuticals and based at EPFL’s Valais-Wallis outpost in Sion. The new team will work in EPFL’s alpine and extreme environment research center. It will apply cutting-edge scientific and technological solutions to environmental challenges like climate change and global resource management. This approach will enhance Switzerland’s existing scientific, economic and diplomatic contribution to this effort.

    The research ship will hoist anchor at 4pm today, and is scheduled to return to Cape Town on 19 March 2017. An initial review of the expedition will be presented the following September at an international symposium to be held in Valais.

    Regular updates on the ACE expedition will be available here:

    This website also provides a wide range of background information on the expedition, the projects, the researchers, the ship, etc.

    Press kit:
    Press release, project descriptions, FAQs, photos: http://bit.ly/ACEexpedition


    • Philippe Gillet, director ad interim of the SPI

    +41 21 693 70 58

    • Sarah Perrin, press officer at EPFL’s Mediacom

    +41 21 693 21 07

    • Danièle Rod, Advisor to the EPFL Presidency in Cape Town, South Africa

    +27 61 445 30 57

    • Helen Gallagher, Ferring Pharmaceuticals

    +41 58 301 00 51

    The Swiss Polar Institute
    The Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) is an interdisciplinary center whose mission is to conduct research on the earth’s poles and other extreme environments. It was created in April 2016. The SPI is based at the Valais outpost of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL Valais-Wallis). It is a consortium of Swiss universities and was co-founded by EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), ETH Zurich, the University of Bern and Editions Paulsen.

    Ferring Pharmaceuticals
    Ferring Pharmaceuticals is a private, research-driven biopharmaceuticals company based in Switzerland. The company is devoted to identifying, developing and marketing innovative products in the fields of reproductive health, urology, gastroenterology, endocrinology and orthopaedics. Ferring has a strong international presence with operations in nearly 60 countries and treatments available in 110 countries. For more information: http://www.ferring.com.

    Presence Switzerland
    Presence Switzerland is the unit of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs responsible for promoting Switzerland’s image abroad and for implementing the Federal Council’s strategy on international communications. It will complement Switzerland’s technical role in the ACE project through scientific diplomacy, which will be particularly important in Antarctica. Its communication initiatives in the ACE project are grouped under the slogan “Science has no borders”. Presence Switzerland’s delegations in the expedition’s stopover countries will run public relations events and add their diplomatic support to the project.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

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