In Seno Ballena, scientists from the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitudes Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Universidad Austral de of Chile installed sensors that will allow them to measure the chemical characteristics of deep water.
A group of scientists from the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitudes Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Universidad Austral de Chile installed a station in Seno Ballena, west of the Strait of Magellan, with sensors to measure the pH, carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen at the surface of the Southern Ocean.
Seno Ballena is adjacent to the Santa Inés Glacier and forms part of the Francisco Coloane Marine Park. This is Chile’s first Coastal Marine Protected Area of Multiple Uses and, at the same time, a site of high biological productivity where various mammals, including humpback whales, feed.
The station is the first biogeochemical buoy installed in the Strait of Magellan. It was submerged to 10 meters depth and will remain in the waters of Seno Ballena for a year, recording multiple oceanic variables. One of the main objectives of the expedition is to study the importance of the Southern Ocean as a CO2 reserve given the increase of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
“In recent decades, the greenhouse effect has been increasing because of the release of certain gases, such as CO2, into the atmosphere due to human productive activities. From this perspective, the big question we are trying to answer is whether the marine area in the Strait of Magellan is acting as a great reservoir of that CO2,” explains Dr. José Luis Iriarte, the research leader.
In Chile, the Magallanes Region is one of the areas where climate change has been most evident. It is not yet possible to know for certain the impacts of oceanic “freshening”, a phenomenon also known as “desalination”, caused by ongoing glacial melting in the fjord and glacier systems of far southern Chile.
The scientists will also study how the marine system of Seno Ballena could affect marine system productivity due to the retreat of the Santa Inés Glacier, and, therefore, the entry of fresh water into the Southern Ocean.
“To date, the influence of the melting of glaciers in the Southern Ocean is not yet known. We will use Santa Inés Glacier and Seno Ballena as a natural laboratory for obtaining information and to prepare us for the future. After this expedition, we will also research the consequences for the marine organisms that live there,” concludes Dr. Iriarte.