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Chile: study of climate change in waters at the end of the world


Delayed by one year due to the pandemic, the expedition aboard the oceanographic vessel of the Chilean Navy Cabo de Hornos crisscrossed the waters of the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel for nine days at the end of December, between Chile and Argentinian Patagonia.

This region of the State of Magallanes is of particular interest due to the low acidity and lower salt and calcium content of the waters that bathe it, compared to other seas and oceans of the globe, especially in the most vulnerable areas. shallower.

  Lake Argentina on the lake of Los Glaciares National Park.

Mist rises from Lake Argentina over the lake in Los Glaciares National Park, near El Calafate, Patagonia.

Photo: Associated Press / Francisco Munoz

The study of these waters is therefore essential, because with the melting of many Patagonian glaciers which discharge large quantities of fresh water into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it foreshadows the conditions that should appear in other marine systems during decades to come.

We don’t know how organisms, and especially microorganisms present in water will react as the average temperature on Earth increases, admits the scientific director of the mission, José Luis Iriarte.

The expedition thus made 14 stages to take water samples at different depths and up to 200 meters.

Samples of deep soil, sometimes more than 300 meters, were also carried out, as well as collections of algae and molluscs.

We are the voice of what nature cannot say, said Wilson Castillo, a 24-year-old biochemistry student, one of the 19 scientists on board. As scientists we have a lot to contribute, especially in a climate change scenario, he believes.

The scientific mission paid particular attention to red tides, these toxic algal blooms that kill fish and cetaceans and generate poisonous toxins for molluscs.

They were first recorded in Magallanes half a century ago and have since been responsible for the deaths of 23 people and the poisoning of over 200 others.

The approach of whales was also at the center of the mission. Scanning the horizon for hours, marine biologist Rodrigo Hucke sought their presence to launch a small motorboat to meet them.

Its goal: to try to collect cetacean excrements to study possible changes in their diet. But this difficult task turned out to be fruitless.

Before returning to their laboratories, the scientists insist on the need for political actions to face the climate emergency.

Regional climate change mitigation and adaptation plans are outdated compared to what is happening in the environment.

A quote from José Luis Iriarte, scientific manager of the mission

For Rodrigo Hucke, one of the main problems historically is the lack of ambition to save the oceans, which cover 70% of the planet’s surface.

He hopes that the next United Nations conference on climate change, COP27 in Egypt, will mark a real change of course in this area.

All of this needs to change in 2022 and concrete decisions to be made to move forward towards deep policies of change in the way we humans do things., Hucke said.

Scanning the crystal-clear waters, he worries that this remote region of Chile will become one of the last bastions of biodiversity on Earth.

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