The scientific expedition will explore the Chilean seas aboard the German vessel SONNE


On January 18, the port of Talcahuano received one of the most modern and best equipped research vessels in the world. This is the German scientific ship RV SONNE, on which more than 50 scientists from Chile and Germany will embark. The objective?: to study the areas with low oxygen content on the coasts of the Biobío region and the Gulf of Almirante Montt in the region of Magellan and Antarctic Chile.

The expedition is attended by researchers from the COPAS Coastal Center of the University of Concepción, the Millennium Institute of Oceanography, IMO, the Austral University, the U. Federico Santa María, of the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research in Germany and other German institutions. Chilean. Dr Heide Schulz-Vogt, an academic at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research in Germany, is the cruise’s chief scientist, and Dr. Silvio Pantoja, deputy director of the COPAS Center is the national coordinator of the campaign, in which a multidisciplinary work to know the impact of pelagic anoxia in the outcrop off the coast of Concepción and in a pristine anoxic fjord, such as the Gulf of Almirante Montt, beyond to investigate the post-glacial development of the Patagonian fjord region of our country.

With a total of 30 working days, the researchers will carry out studies in marine biogeochemistry, paleoclimatology, marine organic and inorganic chemistry, biooptics, marine microbial ecology and ecophysiology.

“SONNE is the newest vessel in Germany to develop oceanography and we plan to study these areas with professionals from the U. de Concepción and other institutions for a long time. We want to study these places because anoxia increases with climate change, which happens a lot in areas like these where there is primary production, but it is also the case in the Baltic Sea, for example, because a lot of nutrients come here with rivers and high agriculture around. We also want to study the Gulf of Almirante Montt, which is “closer”, more similar to the Baltic Sea, but smaller and with less agriculture around; That is why it seems important to us to compare these areas,” says Dr. Heide Schulz-Vogt.

Around the region of Biobío and Patagonia

Since the great oxygenation event about 2.3 billion years ago, oxygen has shaped our planet and interacts with all major elemental cycles: the cycle of nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus and, most importantly, the life itself and the carbon cycle depend directly on the availability of oxygen, which has changed considerably in the geological past, revealing areas of low concentration, the effects of which have not been sufficiently investigated.

With this assumption and considering the fact that the oxygen shortage in the global ocean is expected to expand geographically with the progress of the Anthropocene, it becomes relevant to carry out this expedition and for this the SONNE ship will leave the port of Talcahuano on January 21st, the day on which it will have start of the scientific campaign “Impact of pelagic anoxia in the upwelling area off Concepción and in a pristine anoxic fjord, and the postglacial development of the Patagonian fjord region of Chile”. Area off Concepción and in a pristine anoxic fjord, and the postglacial development of the Patagonian fjord region of Chile”) of Bahía de Concepción, where 27 sampling stations will be built, work including net hauls to obtain samples and images of the zoo and phytoplankton species, sampling of water and sediments, as well as measurements of oceanographic variables to then end up in the same port on January 28, thus realizing the first work area.

“By investigating this area we want to fill specific knowledge gaps on the impact of the oxygen minimum zone on organic and inorganic geochemistry, microbiology, food webs and diversity… the idea is to compare this area with other poorly understood areas of the fjords that These are plants that should not present anoxia because they are environments close to freshwater flows, but nonetheless present this condition. We will study the physical and biological phenomena that dominate for this to happen,” explains Cristóbal Castillo, a marine biologist who will embark on all phases of the campaign and who is currently doing a doctorate at the COPAS Coastal Center.

On January 29, the ship sets sail again, but this time towards the Magallanes region, where a second and a third area will be studied. Almirante Montt Gulf (GAM) has conditions of hypoxia and anoxia (low and no oxygen levels) making it a research hotspot to determine the causes and conditions of such a feature. It is a presumably uncontaminated environment which will be compared with environments heavily affected by human activity (Baltic Sea, Black Sea) and the geological history of this fjord system will be reconstructed. The fjords Canal Concepción, Wide and Seno Eyre will also be studied.

In the latter aspect, in the area of ​​paleoceanography there is Dr. Carina Lange, a researcher at the COPAS center, who explains that “we will study the sediments accumulated in the Gulf of Almirante Montt and in the Concepción channel, in the area of ​​the fjords of Patagonia. On time scales of the last 200 years, we will study the recent hydrological and biological changes that have occurred in these fjords due to climate change. To do this, we will use various chemical, sedimentological parameters and biomarkers conserved in the sediments and we will also use them to reconstruct changes in, for example, productivity, oxygenation, sea level changes, etc. on longer time scales such as, for example, the last 18,000-20,000 years, the latter will give us a historical insight into natural changes in the fjords before human impact”.

In these areas, the researchers will obtain images of the zoo and phytoplankton and take samples of sediments, and the oceanography of this environment will be described in detail to make a stop once the work in the port of Talcahuano is completed on February 21.

About the SONNE science ship

This campaign using the SONNE science vessel stems from a scientific cooperation agreement between the University of Concepción and the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research in Warnemünde, Germany. “This is the fruit of a long-standing collaboration between Chile and the group of German scientists led by Heide Schultz. SONNE is a large vessel that allows to study the sediment, the water column and the atmosphere at the same time, so our approach is comprehensive; we are very happy to finally be able to receive it in Chilean waters”, comments the director of COPAS Coastal, Dr. Camila Fernández.

The SONNE measuring 116 meters long and 20.6 meters wide, was undocked and carried out its first tests in the North and Baltic Seas in 2014, describing it as a “floating miracle” in the words of Angela Merkel.

Particularly noteworthy are the engine room units, which are mounted in such a way that they send almost no vibrations to the ship’s hull. This means that SONNE can travel silently and without vibrations to avoid annoying ecological surveys. The deep-sea research vessel also features seven high-performance cranes, an underwater robot and a precise positioning system. The vessel is held exactly in position during search operations by its two large propellers, the rotating pump jet and the bow and stern thrusters.

But it is not the first time that SONNE has carried out research in the Chilean sea, since, in early 2022, scientists embarked to study the seabed of the South Pacific, traveling from Valparaíso (Chile) to Noumea (New Caledonia) .

SONNE has a capacity of 40 scientists, a crew of 32 and 17 laboratories in 600 m2.

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