The White Island Blitz

Seawater of the Future?


This post is a press release from the University of Otago related to White Island expedition, to which the Marine Biology Lab of the ULB is participating.

In the first week of December a team of scientists [including Antonio Agüera] from all over the world will descend on Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty. These chemists, biologists, geologists, botanists and marine scientists are planning a “blitz” on the nearby marine volcano: Whakaari or White Island. Their aim: to find out as much as they can about the currents, the water, the algae, and the marine animals as they can in one week. White Island is special because the volcano heats up the water and bubbles carbon dioxide into it, through vents on the flanks of the volcano. This creates a marine environment that is warmer and more acidic than “normal” seawater – the kind of environment that we can expect to see as CO2 in the air is absorbed by the oceans over the next several decades. In effect, it creates Seawater-of-the-Future.

Scientists have been looking at the effects of warming and acidification on plant, animals and even ecosystems in the lab, but there are serious limitations to that kind of study. Having a real-life lab, where animals and plants have lived their whole lives in Seawater-of-the-Future, makes a big difference.

“We need to know more about how this kind of environment varies over time,” says expedition leader Dr. Abby Smith. “We hope to find out where the water is warmest, and where the bubbles make the water the most acid. This work will form the baseline for further studies, and allow scientists to plan their studies better. The best way to find out more about White Island is for us to go there all together.”

The White Island Blitz is being organised through the University of Otago Ocean Acidification Research Theme. Most of the 17 scientists who are coming along are from University of Otago or from the University of Auckland, but there are participants from Australia, Belgium, and the UK as well. This scientific expedition will take place in the first week of December, with fishing boats, divers, snorkelers, and a variety of equipment and samplers going out 48 km offshore to White Island for four days.

On Monday November 30 the Whakatane community and media will have a chance to meet the scientists and hear more about the expedition. And throughout the week a community engagement programme will invite locals, including tourism operators, teachers, and school children to learn more about their marine environment.

For further information contact, [or contact us directly]:

Associate Professor Abby Smith, Department of Marine Science, University of Otago

Chief Scientist of Expedition

Sally Carson, Department of Marine Science, University of Otago

Community Engagement Coordinator for Expedition

vERSO Team arrives at DDU

The vERSO team has finally arrived at the Dumont D’Urville station (Terre Adélie, Antarctica), after crossing the Southern Ocean onboard the IPEV’s RV Astrolabe. Here are their first impressions (translated from French):

“I’m finally installed at the Dumont d’Urville (DDU) station in Terre Adélie, part of the  “Terres Australes et antarctiques françaises” (TAAFs).

It took me 13 days to get their:  2,5 days in the planes, 4 days waiting in Hobart (Tasmania) awaiting the fixing of the ship’s generator, and 6 days at sea, on one of the most unconfortable ships I’ve ever been onboard, the Astrolabe. Even if the weather was good, the ship would roll, up to 35° on both sides! When you’re in such a roller coaster, the only things you can do is avoid getting sea sick and trying not to bang yourself everywhere… Little sleep, as we are constantly rolling from one side to the other in our berths. On the bright side, beautiful albatrosses are following us along the way.

Once arrived at DDU, the transfer to the station is carried out using helicopters, the sea ice extending up to 28km from the station. The helicopter carry the equipement (up to 1T per rotation). After two days, we were able to gather our personal equipment and part of our research and diving gear.

Firs sounding show that the sea ice thickness in the places where we are planning to dive is around  2 to 3m!

The station is located in a beautiful area, where I meet Adélie penguins, fulmars and snow petrels every day. From my room, I have a view on the continental glacier (l’Astrolabe) and on penguin colonies (noisy and smelly!). The logistics here are impressive, and we received a lot of lab space. We still need to find a solution to bring sea water to the container where we will be running acidification experiments in controlled conditions. Our only fear now is that time is flying by extremely quickly!

Wishing you the best for the end of the year,



Leaving South, part I: Dumont D’Urville

Last week, Philippe Dubois headed South, on an expedition to the Dumont D’Urville station, managed by the french IPEV. Together with Loïc Michel, from the University of Liège, the team will be running ecophysiology experiments and collecting samples for trophic networks analysis, in the framework of the vERSO project. Once they have reached the station (see their current location here), Philippe and Loïc will be diving under 3m of ice to access the samples they will need to work.

We’re expecting news soon, and will be posting photos and other material as we receive it!

You can find more information about the vERSO project on the dedicated website.