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Chilean scientists investigate climate change at the ‘end of this world’

Chilean scientists investigate climate change at the ‘end of this world’

Crew members of the Chilean navy scientific research ship Cabo de Hornos take pictures at the glacier Fouque, in the region of Magallanes, Chile, on Nov. 30.  | AFP-JIJI

Chilean scientists are asking regional leaders to increase their efforts to combat climate change.

A recent expedition to investigate harmful organisms and their impact on climate change was delayed by one year because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Chile’s Magallanes region — on the southern tip of South America where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet — is known as the “end of the world” and extends from Punta Arenas through the Magallanes Strait to the Beagle Channel.

The oceanographic research vessel Cabo d’ Hornos was sailing through high-altitude straits past glaciers. Its scientists were focused on the water because it has lower levels of acidity and salt than other oceans and seas, especially in the shallowest areas.

Scientists predict that the same conditions found in water will also be found in other parts the world as climate change increases.

“The regional plans for mitigation and adaptation to climate change are out of date with respect to what is happening in the environment,” said Jose Luis Iriarte, who headed the expedition.

“The environment is changing quicker than we as a society are responding to it.”

The scientific mission paid special attention to the “red tides” — harmful algal blooms that can turn the sea red.

They were first found in Magallanes about half a century back. Since then they have caused the deaths of 23 people, and poisoned more 200.

Global warming has also caused melting glaciers to affect this area.

“We don’t know how these organisms and particularly microorganisms will respond to these effects,” said Iriarte.

The expedition stopped at 14 locations, taking water samples at different levels. Each time, the rosette was used to measure the depth of 200m.

Another piece was used to collect soil samples at depths exceeding 300 meters.

The scientists also searched the beaches for molluscs and algae.

Rodrigo Hucke, a marine biologist and one of the 19 scientists on the expedition spent hours scanning water’s surface from the highest point of the boat.

He would signal a distant whale and then jump in a small motorboat to get as close to it as possible. This was to collect its feces with the goal of making changes to its diet.

Hucke says there has been a historical lack of action by governments when it comes to the oceans, which cover 70% of the planet’s surface.

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He hopes that the U.N. Climate Change Conference — COP27 in Egypt — will mark a true global transformation in how the oceans are managed.

“All of this needs to change in 2022 and there needs to be a concrete decision in advancing toward profound policies of change in how us humans do things,” said Hucke.

He is worried that this region could one day become “one of the last bastions of biodiversity on Earth.”

Following the nine-day mission it was time for the return to laboratories to analyze all the information.

“I think we’re the voice of what nature cannot say,” said Wilson Castillo, a biochemistry student who, at 24, was the youngest member of the expedition.

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