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How sampling holes allow access to vital information

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WWF is supporting the research of the Catlin Arctic Survey. This year’s research includes an expedition across the ice, as well as an ice base, both in the far north of Canada. The main purpose of the mission is to gather data on the changing Arctic Ocean currents.

Read our previous posts here, here, here and here, and an article on the WWF Global Arctic Programme website announcing the launch of the 2011 Catlin Arctic Survey here.

Dr Helen Findlay, of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, describes the hard work that went into creating the largest sampling hole yet, and how the ice base scientists use these access points to the sea below.

“Today we drilled another hole in the sea ice through to the seawater below. It’s an impressive 1.8 metres long by 1 metre wide, and the sea ice we had to drill through was about 1.7 metres thick. This ice hole is a special one because it is going to be used for running experiments rather than just routine sampling of the seawater.

It took about seven hours to make, so it’s been none stop all day. It’s really hard manual work, especially once we’re down to chipping with chisels, as we can only really have two people working on the hole at any one time. Unfortunately, for my poor arms anyway, I started the hole and it became a bit of a personal challenge to work through it all to see the whole thing completed.

Chipping off massive blocks of ice is a pretty satisfying job but it’s when you finally puncture through to the seawater below and it all gushes up into the hole that I can really sit back and admire nature’s beauty and strength. Staring down into the beautiful inky black depths surrounded by glistening white really reminds me that we know so little about the oceans on our planet.

One of the reasons we need a hole like this for experiments is that we need to keep the plants and animals that we are interested in studying, in the right conditions. The air temperature would freeze them straight away and it’s too difficult to try to keep seawater cold in our heated laboratory tents. The best place for these creatures is to be is in the sea.

We capture a few organisms and take samples of seawater, and put them in bottles. In these bottles we look at how the creatures are behaving, take measurements or even change the water’s chemical balance. We then hang these bottles through our ice hole into the seawater below so that the creatures are kept at the right light and temperature conditions.

This is all so I can investigate the impact of ocean acidification, light and nutrients changes on the functions of minute marine organisms (phytoplankton and zooplankton).

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