Looking a bit deeper into climate change

• Prof Lynnath Beckley is helping expand our knowledge of how climate change is affecting the oceans. Photo by Steve Grant.

A MURDOCH University scientist is helping to unlock the mystery of how climate change is affecting life beneath the surface of the oceans as part of an historic sea voyage off the coast of WA.

Lynnath Beckley is leading WA’s team in the International Indian Ocean Expedition, which is recreating a voyage by scientists nearly 60 years ago who measured the physical, chemical and biological makeup of the water along the 110th meridian.

Back then climate change was just an emerging field of study, but Prof Beckley said the current voyage will provide important data.

“The surface ocean temperature off WA has risen by nearly a degree since the original study and this expedition will assess the effects of climate change against the benchmark data gathered in the 1960s,” Prof Beckley said.

That temperature rise is only known about because of satellites which scan the surface of the ocean, while the IIOE-2 mission will be gathering water samples from a breathtaking 5000 metres below.

Prof Beckley said chemical reactions vary at different temperatures, so looking at different elements of the water column and comparing them to data from the previous voyage could reveal any significant changes.

Rock lobsters

WA’s fisheries department is also keeping a close eye on the voyage, as it’s hoping to discover more information about the mysterious life of rock lobsters so it can better manage the local fishery.

Rock lobster larvae drift out to sea and spend the first nine months or so mingling with the plankton up to 1000 kilometres offshore before winds and currents bring them back towards the continental shelf. There they undergo a last moult which transforms them from something spider-like to a tiny, transparent rock lobster, then they swim back towards shore and find a comfortable rock to settle under.

Prof Beckley said the scientists aboard will also be trying to find out more about lantern fish, which are the most abundant species of fish in the deep waters off WA, but one of the least understood. Whale researchers are also using modified military sonars to track the movement of whales.

The voyage is a month long and there are daily updates if you want to keep track of the RV Investigator’s team at https://iioe-2.incois.gov.in/

by STEVE GRANT

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