Health & Environment

Texas A&M Oceanographer Leading 40-Day GO-SHIP Antarctic Expedition

Two Texas A&M students will join Dr. Alejandro Orsi as he leads an international team of scientists to conduct research in the Southern Ocean.
By Bumsoo Kim, Texas A&M University College of Geosciences March 14, 2019

Dr. Alejandro Orsi at the top of Observation Hill, Antarctica, in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Orsi.)
Dr. Alejandro Orsi at the top of Observation Hill, Antarctica, in 2011.

(Photo courtesy of Alejandro Orsi

Dark, rough seas and busy days filled with collecting samples from icy waters – “that’s a typical day in the Southern Ocean,” says Dr. Alejandro Orsi, professor in the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M University.

From April 3 to May 12, Orsi will lead a 40-day oceanography expedition to Antarctica, as the chief scientist of the I6S Global Ocean Ship-based Hydrographic Investigation Program (GO-SHIP) Cruise.

“The overall science goal of the I6S GO-SHIP cruise is to learn how the southwestern portion of the Indian Ocean has changed over the past decades,” Orsi said. “Specifically, GO-SHIP long-term measurements seek to characterize how the deep ocean has warmed and freshened, to determine if the regional budgets of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide have changed, and to estimate rates of nutrients depletion and ocean acidification.”

Dr. Isabella Rosso, postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institution Oceanography, University of California San Diego, is the cruise’s Co-Chief Scientist.

Aggie students sailing to Antarctica

A total of 27 researchers will be aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, including six students actively working on the cruise.

Two of the students are from Texas A&M University: Loicka Baille, undergraduate student in the Department of Ocean Engineering, and Garrett Walsh, oceanography graduate student. Baille will focus on measuring physical parameters, such as operating the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument; while Walsh will focus on ocean-atmosphere interactions by measuring gaseous tracers in seawater, such as Chloroflurocarbon (CFC) and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6).

Collecting critical oceanic data

Since the 1970s, numerous ship-based hydrographic surveys, such as Geochemical Ocean Section Programs (GEOSECS) and World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), have been conducted to observe and document the global ocean. However, the lack of formal global organizations and international agreements have progressively diminished the perceived importance of repeat transoceanic hydrographic lines to observe the evolution of oceanic conditions in a changing climate, Orsi said.

To sustain a global hydrographic program through data sharing, GO-SHIP was established in 2007. By coordinating a network of repeat hydrographic lines across all ocean basins, Go-SHIP brings together scientists with interests in large-scale, interdisciplinary climate studies.

The meridional I6S GO-SHIP hydrographic section that Orsi will lead spans the Indian-Atlantic gateway between Africa and Antarctica.

R/V Thomas G Thompson.
R/V Thomas G Thompson.

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington

After leaving Cape Town, South Africa on April 3, it will take about eight full days of sailing aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson to near the Antarctic shelf break.

From there, full water column CTD profiling and seawater sampling will start at stations separated by about 30 nautical miles (a unit maritime distance approximately equal to 1,852 meters), and continue all the way north until arriving back to Cape Town on May 12, Orsi said. I6S 2019 will be the third expedition along the line since the French original in 1996, and the U.S. repeat in 2008.

Once the I6S cruise departures from Cape Town, Texas A&M Oceanography will receive and share updates from the scientists aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson.

GO-SHIP is part of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and it is a major contributor to the Climate Variability and Predictability Experiment (CLIVAR) of the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) and the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP).

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