The South Georgia Wave Experiment (SG-WEX)
British Antarctic Survey and University of Bath
The King Edward Point meteor radar is part of a collaborative research project between the Universities of Bath, Leeds, the British Antarctic Survey and the Met Office. The project studies the effect on the atmosphere of the isolated, mountainous island of South Georgia. The radar detects the drifting of meteor trails at heights of about 80 – 100 km, effectively the edge of space. The meteor trails are carried by the winds of this tenuous outer part of the atmosphere and so tracking their motion reveals these winds. The radar operates continuously and has been measuring the atmosphere over South Georgia since February 2016. The results reveal that the motion of the atmosphere includes a rich variety of atmospheric waves and tides, in some ways similar to waves and tides in the oceans. In fact, the atmospheric tides measured over South Georgia are among the largest measured anywhere on Earth. Future studies will investigate if atmospheric waves generated by winds blowing over the mountains of the island are able to directly propagate to these great heights, where they may deposit energy and momentum carried from near the surface and so influence the circulation of the atmosphere.
Stable water isotope analysis of surface water samples
By Heini Wernli, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Our project quantifies key aspects of the Southern Ocean water cycle by performing stable water isotope (SWI) measurements in atmospheric vapour, precipitation and surface waters. Together with sophisticated meteorological diagnostics (e.g., air parcel trajectories, moisture source analysis, cyclone tracking), these observations provide a unique opportunity to investigate the water budget over remote islands, e.g., South Georgia. We collected small water samples from lakes and a river at different altitudes and will analyse the isotopic content (d2H and d18O) of these samples in our lab at ETH Zurich during the coming months. The results will provide interesting information about the variability of stable water isotopes in surface waters on South Georgia.
Marine Plastic Research
By Carolina Rodriguez
Plastic marine pollution have being well documented in all the oceans around the world, but just few recent works are recording the presence of microplastic in pristine areas such as the southern ocean, Antarctic and subantarctic marine areas.
In this way, Uruguayan researchers are working in global environmental human impacts on coastal-marine Antarctic and sub-antarctic ecosystems, particularly in the Antarctic Peninsula, near the Artigas Antarctic Research Station, Maxwell Bay, King Jorge Island, with the objectives of evaluating the concentration of plastics and microplastics and adsorbed persistent organic pollutants in marine surface water, and their possible effects on the Antarctic marine wildlife.
With the British Royal Navy collaboration in HMS Protector, we are now expanding the sampling area of the main work, taking samples of floating marine debris during the ship survey in South Georgia Islands, Falkland and Antarctica, developing the Uruguayan marine plastic pollution research.
Atmospheric and Surface Ocean Research
South African Weather Service
On annual basis, the South African government conducts a dedicated logistical voyage to its SANAE base, on Antarctica and the South African Weather Service is one of the stakeholders with vested interests in understanding the climate system from the Antarctic region. The South African Weather Service with the support of the National Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa, has deployed 14x drifting weather buoys off the SGSSI on board the R.V. SA Agulhas II. The buoy deployments were conducted as part of contribution to the buoy network array coordinated by the Data Buoy Cooperation Panel, in order to monitor the climate system in the Antarctic region. However, these deployments happened after the stationary buoy at Thule was replaced. At least 5x drifting buoys were handed over to the Government Officers at the King Edward Point to be deployed later by the Pharos SG.
Pollen rain around the Scotia Arc
The method of investigating long-distance pollen dispersal by catching the pollen rain has only a short tradition in Antarctica, but Antarctic areas have attributes that encourage the study of long-distance dispersal especially associated with the colonization of terrains uncovered by glaciers which largely depend on long-distance transfer as well as on ecological conditions.
In 2015/16, we visited South Georgia and placed 10 pollen traps on existing time-lapse cameras near penguin colonies. As we build up a picture of pollen dispersal around the Scotia Arc and Antarctic Peninsula, it will help us to understand colonisation and dispersal in a changing climate.
Censusing and genetic monitoring of penguins and seals around South Georgia
Remote wilderness is a defining characteristic of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, but their isolation also makes monitoring and study extremely difficult away from bases like King Edward Point and Bird Island. Over the last few years, a team from Oxford University have been deploying timelapse cameras around to monitor the health and recovery of seabird and seal populations. Cameras take a photos every hour, from which we can determine the arrival dates, survival and reproductive success of each nest within the field of view.
Images from time lapse cameras are placed on www.penguinwatch.org, where volunteers help us to extract the data from imagery, as we work on a computer vision algorithm to automate the process. Since its launch in 2014, over 4 million people have participated in this citizen science project, which is now one of the largest in the world.
Collection of macaroni penguin ‘A’ eggs to examine for maternal antibody transmission.
By Norman Ratcliffe
Penguins are thought to be particularly prone to diseases based on studies of captive birds. Changes in climate and human activities in South Georgia and Antarctica may facilitate transmission of diseases and penguin’s susceptibility to these. British Antarctic Survey and the Vet School at Cambridge University have initiated a study to examine prevalence of different disease types in wild penguins on South Georgia and the South Orkneys. On Bird Island, we collected 54 first-laid eggs from the nests of known-age macaroni penguins. This would have no impact on breeding success as, bizarrely, this species always ejects the first laid egg from the nest. Females transfer antibodies to the egg to enable chicks to fight infections post-hatching prior to them acquiring their own immunity, so studies of ejected eggs provide a low-impact method of assessing disease prevalence and infection rates.
Stable isotope studies of liverwort-fungal associations in the sub-Antarctic
By Kevin Newsham
Samples of liverworts, mosses and higher plants were collected to test the hypothesis that these groups of plants differ in their 15N stable isotope ratios. This follows up similar work done at Ny-Ålesund on Svalbard, in which significant differences were found between the three groups of plants and underlying soil, possibly associated with habitat type and with high 15N isotope ratios of bird and other animal guano. The samples are still undergoing processing and we cannot as yet provide an indication of what was found.
Ecosystems Programme Western Core Box Programme
By Gabriele Stowasser
Since 1981 BAS have undertaken cruises to determine krill biomass as part of the ongoing assessment of the status of the marine ecosystem in the region of South Georgia. This unique time series, known as the Western Core Box, is part of the Ecosystems Programme contribution to BAS national capability. It comprises an acoustic grid survey of 8 transects each of 80 km in length, together with associated net and oceanographic sampling and the calibration of acoustic instrumentation. In addition to the acoustic survey, which covers a wide area but has limited temporal coverage, there are two moorings (In deep water to the southwest and northwest of South Georgia) to provide a temporal, year-round set of observations. These moorings are recovered during the cruise, refurbished and data downloaded, and then re-deployed later in the cruise
Measurements of the oxygen isotope composition of seawater
By Andrew Meijers
By measuring the relative concentration of oxygen 18 to oxygen 16 atoms (d18O) in seawater molecules it is possible to discern the type and to some extent, location, of freshwater sources contributing to local seawater properties. For example, glacial ice melt has a distinctly different d18O signature to sea ice melt, so by repeated measurement of ocean water d18O properties it is possible to tell if changes in observed salinity (and hence circulation) are driven by increased glacial melt vs changes in sea ice concentration. However, in order to do this accurately the d18O characteristics of local freshwater sources to the ocean must be well known. This project forms the baseline observations for both Scotia/Weddell Sea d18O properties, as well as ascertaining the d18O characteristics of local sea-ice, precipitation and glacial freshwater sources. South Georgia is a significant source of both precipitation and glacial runoff to the Scotia Sea, so we have focussed on collecting samples from both local sea waters as well as glaciers and meltwater lakes. These d18O 'end members' to the Scotia Sea will be compared with Weddell sea-ice and Signy Island glacial samples, and their respective properties used to assess their relative importance of these freshwater sources in setting Scotia Sea deep and surface ocean properties. Over time measurements such as these will allow us to assess the impact of changes in precipitation and glacial melt on ocean circulation, carbon and heat uptake in the Scotia Sea and wider Southern Ocean.
Beached bones: historical genetic diversity of great whales from South Georgia Whaling Stations
By Angela Sremba
We aim to describe the historical genetic diversity of great whale populations that were exploited in waters surrounding South Georgia island during 20th century commercial whaling. We plan to collect whale bone samples from the shorelines near abandoned whaling stations on South Georgia Island for species identification and estimates of genetic diversity. As bone fragments are degraded and fragmented, we will extract DNA in the laboratory and use genetic methods to identify species and describe historical genetic diversity (Sremba et al. 2014). We plan to compare the historical genetic diversity that is representative of the preexploitation whale populations to contemporary populations (Sremba et al. 2012). Results of this study will be published in a peer reviewed journal and shared with GSGSSI for their website.
By Paul Mayewski
As a consequence of greenhouse gas warming and the Antarctic ozone hole Southern Hemisphere westerly winds are migrating poleward and intensifying, with potentially significant impacts on the distribution of heat, moisture, pollutants, storm patterns, sea surface currents and temperature, and marine ecosystems. Predicting the future of westerly wind behaviour is critically important and instrumental records cover at best a few decades and are sparsely distributed. Ice core records offer a robust tool for investigating past climate and predicting future climate. South Georgia glaciers are melting at a dramatic rate so the Westwind Expedition is searching for appropriate sites from which a viable ice core record can be recovered. In October 2015, a 15.38m reconnaissance ice core was recovered from the Briggs-Esmark region and is currently being analysed to determine whether or not the site warrants future investigation for recovery of a longer record covering hundreds to thousands of years at annual and finer resolution.
By Ben Burpee
Little is known about South Georgia lake ecosystems. Though some work has been done to assess the composition of algal communities, there is very little water chemistry data available for South Georgia lakes. Water chemistry—such as nutrient concentrations, turbidity, salinity, and dissolved organic carbon concentrations—can be important in determining algal community structure. In this project a 12-lake survey on the North side of South Georgia was conducted to collect water chemistry and sediment samples, which contain siliceous algal remains. Lake sediment cores were also collected to assess past algal communities and ecological conditions. With these data, it will be able to determine forcers of algal community composition across this unique sub-Antarctic landscape. This research will be important to understand how South Georgia lake ecosystems have responded to past climate changes, and predict how they might respond to future ones.
Soil and Moss Sampling on the South Sandwich Islands
Dr Tom Hart and Gemma Clucas
Peat cores from Candlemas Islands were obtained are at the request of Prof Peter Convey (British Antarctic Survey) and will form part of a wider series of studies examining growth rates, palaeoecological and palaeoclimatological indicators across the maritime Antarctic. They provide a valuable extension to currently available sample material from sites ranging between the South Orkney Islands and northern Alexander Island. While specific publications relating to the South Sandwich Islands alone are not envisaged (although these cores will provide the first such palaeo record from the archipelago), the wider project to which they will contribute has already proved to be highly productive, generating several highly influential publications.
Higher Predator Monitoring at Maiviken, Cumberland Bay
Stephanie Winnard - British Antarctic Survey
Long term monitoring of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) and gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) has been ongoing at KEP since 2008. This year monitoring of giant petrels (Macronectes halli/Macronectes giganteus) was reintroduced. Breeding success is monitored through bi-daily photo counts for seals, and nest monitoring of gentoo penguins and giant petrels. The young are weighed/measured to assess health prior to fledging. Diet is also monitored year round for fur seals.
The aim of the work is to provide data showing long term trends, as well as annual variations in the breeding success of the higher predators of South Georgia. Specifically of interest are those reliant on krill, which is a keystone species that many other animals rely upon for food either directly or indirectly. Breeding success and diet information can provide important indicators of the general health of the ocean ecosystem and local stocks levels. This data is used by CCAMLR to help implement conservative fishing quotas each year that will not impact on the food chain.
Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Measurements at King Edward Point
by Norman Teferle
In March 2014 Professor Norman Teferle and Dr Addisu Hunegnaw, both from the University of Luxembourg, visited King Edward Point (KEP) to continue their work in support of research into land movements and sea level changes of/around South Georgia Island. They serviced the continuous GNSS station on Brown Mountain, installed of a second one directly at KEP, installed a tide board at the jetty to calibrate the tide gauge and carried out a number of high-precision geodetic surveys between all these instruments. From the collection of these data it will be possible to learn if South Georgia Island is part of the Scotia tectonic plate or whether it is micro-plate between the South America and Scotia tectonic plates. The measurements will also show if the point on Brown Mountain is rising or subsiding and if KEP is doing the same, i.e. is stable. This is important in order to juge if the tide gauge measurements show real sea level changes or just artefacts of rising or subsiding land. For more information see http://hdl.handle.net/10993/17359
Diversity of Collembola on South Georgia
Jessica Hoskins – Monash University
Collembola are amongst the most widespread and abundant group of animals in the soil, and play an important role in nutrient cycling. They are usually one of the most important groups of terrestrial organisms on sub-Antarctic islands. Pervious studies have focused on King Edward Point (KEP), Grytviken and Husvik, and no collections have been made in remote parts of the island.
In this project samples were taken from 14 different sites around South Georgia where collections had previously never been made. Collembola were collected using aspirator techniques and soil cores were taken. The soil cores were taken back to KEP so that the species of soil dwelling collembola might be extracted. These two methods were used in an attempt to get high species diversity. The number of species we collected will not be known until the samples arrive at our lab in Melbourne and we are able to study them under the microscope.
Potential Dietary Changes in Skuas following Eradication of Alien Species (Brown Rats) at South Georgia
Richard Phillips – British Antarctic Survey
This project investigates possible dietary changes in brown skuas following the eradication of brown rats. Stable isotope ratios will be measured in feathers taken from skua chicks (each from a different brood), and in small samples of dried muscle tissue from representative prey found dead in the same areas (brown rats; Antarctic prions, diving petrels, penguins and other seabirds; seal carrion; other items if available). The intention is to collect samples in the same areas in years before and after the rodent eradication, i.e. Jan-Feb. 2015 and 2016. Comparable material will also be obtained from Bird Island as part of the routine monitoring.
Tracking of Seabirds at Bird Island
Richard Phillips – British Antarctic Survey
The project involves the tracking of several species (wandering, black-browed and light-mantled albatrosses, white-chinned petrels and brown skuas) using a range of devices (satellite-transmitters, GPS loggers, immersion loggers and audio loggers) to examine distribution, activity patterns, interactions with conspecifics and fishing vessels, and other aspects of foraging ecology. Feathers and a small blood sample will be taken from some species for molecular sexing and analysis of stable isotope ratios to infer diet.
Extreme Ice Survey: Time-Lapse Cameras
The Extreme Ice Survey has installed six time-lapse cameras on South Georgia Island at three locations, including Risting Glacier in Drygalski Fjord, Nordenskjöld Glacier in Cumberland East Bay and Bertrab Glacier at Gold Harbor. The camera systems include a Nikon digital camera and a custom timer that are housed in a waterproof case and powered by a battery and solar panel. These cameras, installed in 2014, join more than 30 other cameras currently installed at glaciers in Greenland, Alaska, Canada, Iceland, the Alps, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The cameras capture photographs hour after hour, day after day, allowing us to monitor both glacier extent and ice velocity, while creating a visual record of these changing landscapes. We encourage you to learn more about our project at www.extremeicesurvey.org
Penguin Monitoring using Counts, Cameras and Samples
by Tom Hart
The Penguin Lifelines project, based at Oxford University, has been developing new monitoring techniques to track the health of South Georgia seabird populations.
Tom Hart and his team visited South Georgia in November 2013. They collected DNA samples from different species of penguin to investigate and monitor the population structure and change of seabird populations over time. Time-lapse cameras have been installed and used to record short-term changes at breeding colonies. For more information on this project and to see a sample of the time-lapse imagery, see www.penguinlifelines.org, or to help count penguins in images taken on South Georgia, visit www.penguinwatch.org.