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Antarctic Marine Census Trip Begins

Wellington, New Zealand
Associated Press
January 29, 2008
 
U.S., New Zealand, and Italian marine scientists have begun a two-month voyage to Antarctica's northern coast as part of an ongoing study of worldwide marine biodiversity, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Tuesday.

The expedition by the Tangaroa is part of the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), a branch of the Census for Marine Life project, which is attempting to assess the diversity and distribution of life in the oceans over ten years.

The trip is also a component of International Polar Year, a global science program that officially runs from March 2007 to March 2009. That project aims to advance scientific understanding of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, including how the Poles interact with global climate systems.

The 26 scientists on the research ship will collect samples of sea life and capture images of the sea floor down to depths of 13,000 feet (about 4,000 meters) in previously unexplored areas, Clark said in a statement.

The data collected by surveys of areas not previously explored will "assist decision-making on environmental issues such as climate change and its effect on Southern Ocean ecosystems," she said.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the voyage would provide essential information about the biodiversity and functioning of the Ross Sea ecosystem off the Antarctic coast that would help safeguard its long-term ecological viability.

New assessments of ocean acidification caused by climate change and identification of new species off Antarctica's coastline are expected from the voyage, Clark said.

In 2007 scientists announced that they found more than 700 new species in the waters surrounding Antarctica, including heart-shaped sea urchins, carnivorous sponges, and giant sea spiders the size of dinner plates.

That work, based on three voyages by the German research vessel Polarstern in the Weddell Sea east of the Antarctic Peninsula between 2002 and 2005, was also part of the CAML project.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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