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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’

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Punta Arenas (Chile) (AFP) – 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 area — at the southern tip South America where the Atlantic & Pacific oceans meet — has been called the “end of world” and stretches from Punta Arenas through Magallanes Strait and 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 the water will be found in other parts of the globe in the future, as climate change continues to impact.

The expedition stopped at 14 places, each time taking water samples at different levels up to a depth of 200 meters using a piece of equipment called a rosette
The expedition stopped at 14 locations, taking water samples at different levels. Each time, the equipment called a “rosette” was used to reach a depth of 200m. Nicolas GARCIA AFP

Jose Luis Iriarte, the expedition’s leader, stated that “the regional plans for mitigation or adaptation to climate change are outdated with respect to what’s happening in the environment.”

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

The scientific mission specialized in the “red tides”, which are harmful algal blooms that can turn sea water red.

They were first discovered in Magallanes half a century ago. Since then, they have been responsible for 23 deaths and poisoning more than 200 people.

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

Iriarte stated that “we don’t know how these organisms, particularly microorganisms, will respond to these effects.”

Sailing through peak-lined straits past glaciers and soaring birds, the scientists on board the oceanographic research vessel Cabo de Hornos had their focus trained on the water, which has lower levels of acidity, salt and calcium
The oceanographic research vessel Cabo d’ Hornos was sailing through peak-lined straits passing glaciers and soaring bird colonies. The scientists aboard Cabo de Hornos stayed focused on the water, which has lower acidity, sodium, and calcium levels. Nicolas GARCIA AFP

The expedition stopped in 14 places and took water samples at different levels, up to 200 meters.

Another piece of equipment was used for soil samples collection, sometimes at depths of more than 300 m.

The scientists also checked for molluscs, algae, and other molluscs.

Last remaining bastion of biodiversity

Rodrigo Hucke (marine biologist) was one of 19 scientists who spent hours scanning the water surface from the top of the boat.

Scientist Maximo Frangopulos (R), researcher at the University of Magallanes (UMAG), collected phytoplankton samples during the nine-day expedition in southern Chile
Maximo Frangopulos, a researcher at the University of Magallanes, collected phytoplankton samples on the nine-day expedition to southern Chile. Nicolas GARCIA AFP

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 faeces with the goal of making changes to its diet.

Hucke claims that governments have been slow to act in the past when it comes the oceans, which make up 70% of the planet’s surface.

He hopes that the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt, COP27, will be a significant global change in how oceans are managed.

Hucke stated, “All this must change in 2022. There needs to be a clear decision to advance toward profound policies that change how we humans do things.”

He is concerned that this area could become “one the last bastions for biodiversity on Earth.”

From the highest point on the boat, marine biologist Rodrigo Hucke, one of 19 scientists on the expedition, spent hours scanning the water for whales
Rodrigo Hucke, a marine biologist and one of 19 scientists on this expedition, spent hours scanning water for whales from the highest point on board. Nicolas GARCIA AFP

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

Wilson Castillo, a biochemistry student, said that “I believe we’re the voice for what nature cannot tell” and was the youngest member on the expedition at 24.

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