Ten Belgian scientists will leave for Antarctica on Tuesday aboard a sailboat to study marine biodiversity and the presence of plastic in the Antarctic Ocean, following a failed attempt last year.
“The boat had not held up, so we’re trying again,” said ULB’s Marine Biology Laboratory researcher, Bruno Danis, head of the expedition.
The scientists will observe how Antarctic marine ecosystems respond to global warming. “These ecosystems, preserved until now, are undergoing rapid environmental changes that are revealed by a rise in water temperature, modified salinity and melting of glaciers, with a direct impact on biodiversity”, Danis explained.
Scientists will be “making a detailed inventory of biodiversity, to depths of a hundred meters,” he said.
Another part of the research will be on the presence of plastic particles in the Antarctic Ocean, which had been considered relatively unspoiled by pollution.
The peculiarity of the expedition is that it takes place on a small sailboat, to limit the mission’s environmental impact, which is usually carried out aboard an icebreaker.
Baptised Australis, “the boat is easier to manage and can move closer to shore,” the head of the mission said.
Last year, their first attempt had ended in failure due to a problem with the boat’s engine. “We had to turn back,” Danis added.
So, researchers are trying again. On Tuesday, they fly to Argentina, where they will sail from Ushuaia on 22 or 23 February. “The exact date depends on the weather,” the biologist said. The scientists will head for the Gerlache Strait, in the Antarctic Peninsula, where they will cast anchor for a month.
The austral summer draws to a close, so the “Belgica 121” scientists should benefit from relatively mild weather. If all goes as planned, they will return to Belgium in April.