site.btaDay 47: Antarctic Research Helps Find Out How to Curb Damage to the Planet, Hydrobiologist Tells BTA
"Antarctica is a clean and accurate natural laboratory that scientists need to explore so as to contribute to the general knowledge of what humans are causing to the planet and how the damage inflicted by human existence can be minimized. This is the main reason for Antarctic research," Assoc. Prof. Lyubomir Kenderov, a hydrobiologist member of the 31st Bulgarian Antarctic expedition, told BTA.
Kenderov, who teaches at the Faculty of Biology of the St Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia University, has also been part of the 27th and 28th Bulgarian Antarctic Expeditions, as well as of the 4th Turkish Polar Expedition, implementing scientific projects related to the marine biology of the Southern Ocean.
The scientist is working on a joint project with Assoc. Prof. Raina Hristova of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oceanology which explores the geology and biology of bottom ecosystems. Hristova is responsible for field work in the geological part of the project. She will study the sediments of the South Bay of Livingston Island: particle sizes, amounts of organic content and some contaminants that might be there because human activity has penetrated beyond the Antarctic ice barrier. Pollution on the Ice Continent is easily distinguished from the background, as conditions there are crystal clear.
"Geological work will enable biologists to link the spread of the species of marine fauna to bottom sediments which are the substrate of their habitat. Starfish, sea urchins and various crustaceans, which are the most numerous endemic species in Antarctica, are extremely important because bottom invertebrates subsist on them. If the bottom is rocky, the creatures attach themselves in some way, but if the bottom is soft and muddy, the creatures can easily burrow and hide to avoid becoming food for fish. Soft bottoms are uncomfortable because if they consist of silty sediments, the oxygen in them is quickly depleted, and so they would live in oxygen-free conditions, i.e. in order to live there, they adapt evolutionarily, getting their oxygen in other ways," the interviewee explained.
"A significant proportion of the South Bay of Livingston Island is occupied by fine black particles of volcanic ash and volcanic material that have built up over millions of years both in glaciers and on the seabed. These provide a habitat for organisms that can burrow in much like other species burrow in sand, even though there is no sand. There is enough oxygen there, but these particles act abrasively and damage soft bodies, which means that no mussels or snails can develop there, only crustaceans with hard and strong "armour". The idea of our field work is to gather information about the geological substrate, the contaminants in the sediments, and to measure water parameters: oxygen, temperature, active reaction, salinity and conductivity. Salinity, for example, varies rapidly as many glaciers in the area melt in summer, at which point it decreases, reaching values similar to those of the Black Sea, which is a semi-saline sea," Kenderov noted.
"Many of the Antarctic organisms are endemic species, i.e. they are only found in this part in the world. The reason for this is that the Southern Ocean has been separated from the rest of the world's oceans for millions of years by a circular, circumpolar current that is much colder than the rest of the waters, and marine organisms can't overcome this 'ice' barrier. Only those that were around 25 million years ago, when Antarctica settled in its present location in the southernmost part of the southern hemisphere, have adapted to life in these super-cold conditions. Only they could live in this place. This is what makes Antarctica interesting for scientists, because these organisms are completely unknown, completely unexplored, and their relationship with the environment is a very good bioindicator of what global changes humans are causing to planet Earth. Not just climate change, not just pollution, but all the changes in the landscapes, in the biodiversity of our planet. Antarctica is a clean and accurate natural laboratory that scientists need to explore so as to contribute to the general knowledge of what humans are causing to the planet and how the damage inflicted by human existence can be minimized. This is the main reason for Antarctic research," the hydrobiologist stressed.
BTA's Daily News editor Konstantin Karagyozov is the only member of the media who is travelling on board the ship to Livingston Island and back, and will cover the Bulgarian expedition on site throughout the stay in Antarctica.
All media outlets can use the Bulgaria-Antarctica BTA's Log for free.