On Tuesday December 20th, the Akademik Treshnikov has left the port of Cape Town, South Africa today on the three-month Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE). The imposing Russian research ship is carrying over 120 people: some 60 researchers from 30 different countries and about the same number of crew members. The expedition will bring them to circumnavigate Antarctica and visit around twelve subantarctic islands for the next three months. This project is the first put together by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), thanks to the support of the businessman and philanthropist Frederik Paulsen. The idea behind the ACE expedition is to measure and quantify the impact of environmental changes and pollution in the Southern Ocean. This region plays a key role in climate regulation: currents of icy water deep in the ocean travel from the poles toward the equator, while warm water and air move across the ocean’s surface towards the cold regions. The earth’s climate can thus be compared to a huge heat engine. This process of heat transfer between polar and tropical regions is also an important component of the carbon cycle and a key factor in the oceans’ ability to store CO2. Twenty-two research projects will be run during this trip by teams from Switzerland, the UK, France and Australia, to name a few. The projects cover a wide range of fields, including glaciology, climatology, biology and oceanography. The topics of study include wave formation, geographical variations in plankton populations, chemical exchanges between air and water, biodiversity on the islands, the ocean’s CO2 storage capacity, microplastic pollution and its impact on fauna, and an acoustic analysis of whale populations. The BNP Paribas Swiss Foundation supports two of these projects, both lead by Swiss scientific teams. The first one – based at ETH Zurich and lead by Pr. Heini Wernli – is concerned with “investigating air-sea interactions”, while the second one – run by Pr. Katherine C.Leonard’s team in the EPFL – deals with “analysing why the ocean has become less salty”. The ACE expedition can be followed throughout its journey in Antarctica on the website http://spi-ace-expedition.ch/
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