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Int'l scientists to voyage into unknown Antarctic to study ecosystem

(Xinhua)    09:05, January 08, 2019

WELLINGTON, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Scientists from New Zealand, China, Italy and France will set off on Tuesday to undertake a six-week research voyage to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean on board New Zealand research vessel Tangaroa for its 13th voyage to Antarctica.

The 21 scientists on board, supported by 19 crew members, will be studying ocean, atmosphere and ecosystem processes with the focus on establishing monitoring programs for the newly created Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area (MPA), a statement from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) said on Monday.

Voyage leader Richard O'Driscoll said the main aim of the trip is to increase knowledge about key processes in the Ross Sea and to provide baseline information about the MPA so that scientists can start to evaluate its effectiveness.

At over 1.55 million square km in size, the MPA is the world's largest marine protected area. It comprises a range of zones from fully protected to special research zones, as well as areas left open to fishing.

"During the voyage we will be making a range of observations from the atmosphere and water column. We will also undertake some biological sampling of small fish and fish living close to the seabed that are potentially impacted by the toothfish fishery," O'Driscoll said.

"It's not about trying to predict a response but knowing how many are there so we can continue to monitor them over time," he said.

There are international collaborations with American, Australian, and South Korean researches as well as the work of the onboard voyage participants from China, Italy and France, the voyage leader said.

The voyage is jointly funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment through the Ross Sea Research and Monitoring (Ross-RAMP) Program, NIWA, and the University of Auckland.

This is the second of two linked NIWA voyages to this region, with the previous voyage in February and March 2018.

The Ross-RAMP Program is laying the foundation for research on the cumulative effects of climate change and fishing that will be internationally significant, said NIWA principal scientist Matt Pinkerton.

"The project will provide New Zealand with a world-leading and cost-effective approach for assessing environmental and ecosystem change over the next 35 years," Pinkerton said.

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