THE SCIENCE

Our goal is to investigate the impact that the melting glaciers of the Patagonian Ice Field are having on fjord and marine productivity.

 

Glaciers that spill off the Patagonian Ice Field are retreating and thinning. The impact of this ice melt, and  the sediment than is transported in glacial meltwater rivers, on downstream ecosystems is virtually unexplored. Our research will address this knowledge gap - are Patagonian glaciers important contributors of nutrients to fjord and marine systems, and what does their  rapid retreat mean to these ecologically sensitive systems?

The Patagonian fjords are long, narrow marine inlets created by past glacial flow griding out (eroding) large channels in bedrock. They are home to highly productive ecosystems (the phytoplankton in these systems are important in the global carbon cycle - have a look at the video to the left), with rich diversity of marine life, including unique cold-water corals. They therefore hold important and diverse ecosytems, and act as sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

From 2016 to 2018 we will be conducting fieldwork at two sites in Patagonia. One is a glaciated field site wedged between the Patagonian ice fields - Baker Channel. The other is a former glaciated site (thousands of years ago) in northern Patagonia - Comau Fjord. In both locations we will be monitoring riverine freshwater, sediment and nutrient (which  provide food for the base of the marine food web) inputs into the fjord. You'll be able to keep up to date with our field exploits over at our Blog.

 

We will also look into the past using clever lab techniques and cold water corals, with items we call "proxies". These are pieces of evidence left by past environments which tell us a about what was happening there a long time ago. It's a bit like being a detective!

Coldwater corals near one of our field sites.

Photos from Vreni Haussermann.