JR157: Seabed biology of Marguerite Bay, Antarctica


Who's who on board the ship...

Chris Hauton is a marine biologist . After completing his PhD and a postdoctoral fellowship in the School of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, he moved to Scotland where he spent two years living and working at the University Marine Biological Station on the Isle of Cumbrae on a diving project investigating the impact of hydraulic dredges on seabed fauna. He left Cumbrae to take up a post at the University of St Andrews where he was involved in a project investigating the molecular immunology of lobsters. Chris returned to Southampton in November 2005 and is now a Roberts Academic Fellow. He has interests in the ecology, physiology and immunology of marine invertebrates.

Chris will be the main writer of the diaries during this cruise.

Gwyn Griffiths is an engineer working at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. He has two main reasons for being on cruise JR157. First, he is one of the people (after Prof Dowdeswell and Dr Larter) that obtained the grant for this research. Second, he was one of the people that obtained the grant from the Natural Environment Research Council to build and commission the Isis ROV, and so he's naturally interested in seeing the vehicle perform on her first science cruise. It’s the way science funding works – you have to compete to win grants to be able to carry out your research and obtain the equipment to carry it out.

Gwyn has been an ocean engineer since 1976. His background was in electronics and sonar engineering. You can see photographs from many of the research cruises and equipment trials that he has been part of if you scroll down his home page. You will soon notice how things have changed. Instruments perform similar functions – we still need to know precisely the temperature and salinity of the oceans, for example, but packages have grown bigger, as more instruments have been added, for example to measure deep ocean currents. Water sampling bottles need to be bigger so that chemists can analyse samples of seawater for many more constituents that include CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and micronutrients such as dissolved iron.

We’re also starting to use complex vehicles, such as the entirely robotic submarine Autosub and this new Remotely Operated Vehicle (Isis). Elsewhere on this site you can read of the terrific sampling, video and sonar capabilities of Isis and of the science that can be done using these tools.

Sven Thatje is a lecturer in Marine Ecology at the School of Ocean and Earth Science at NOCS. His research focuses on ecological and physiological adaptations of life to cold temperatures and this is the reason why he returns to Antarctica as often as he can. One objective of his 7th trip to the Southern Ocean onboard RRS James Clark Ross is the hunt for deep-sea predator king crabs, which belong to the largest arthropods presently inhabiting Earth. One of the great diversity enigmas of Antarctica is the lack of major seafloor predators, such as crabs, shark, rays and many fish. This was previously assigned to a failure of these species to adapt to the cold water environment with temperatures well below 0°C. The fossil record supports the view that most of these predators became extinct during the process of Antarctic cooling as a result of continental re-arrangement. The last major cooling step lasted until about 15 million years ago and eventually led to the climate of Antarctica as we know it today.

In recent years, increased records of king crabs in the deeper parts of the Southern Ocean raised the question of their return into shallow polar seas. As a consequence of climate change and elevated water temperatures in Antarctica, especially the shallow waters along the Antarctic Peninsula would be prone to invasion by crabs. This is indeed a very likely scenario and one of the present objectives of Sven's research is to understand how Antarctic seafloor communities that evolved in absence of such predatory pressure in the past 15 million years, will respond to a potential shift in the food chain.

On January 25, 2007, Sven's greatest expectations had come true: during Dive 6 of the ROV Isis they encountered “the beast” on the continental slope of Antarctica, at about 1400m water depth, which was an amazing moment not only for a crab scientist! After a long “fight” between the ROV and the not too happy king crab, the ROV crew beautifully managed to catch one smaller specimen without damaging it and brought it up on deck (see photo above left of a happy Sven!). The team registered a substantial population of king crab, including two tiny juveniles, which is an important proof of established stocks, between 1100 and 1400 m. The hunt continues and they are especially looking for shallower king crab records now.

....more coming soon!

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October 2006
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