Journal publishes special edition about Anglo-Dutch collaboration on Antarctica

Four years of scientific collaboration at Dirck Gerritsz laboratory bears fruit

1 June 2017

The first Dutch laboratory on Antarctica was opened in January 2013 by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science thanks to good collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey. After four years of research the journal Deep-Sea Research has published an overview of the results so far with the focus on research into the marine ecosystem. The publication makes it very clear how special the Anglo-Dutch collaboration in this field is.

The west of the Antarctica Peninsula is warming up rapidly. What does that mean for the marine ecosystem? The Dirck Gerritsz (DG) laboratory was established to answer that question. It is located on the Rothera Research Station of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Since its opening, the Dirck Gerritsz laboratory has been used intensively. The laboratory has enabled Dutch researchers to take part in important international research projects and therefore to contribute to a better understanding of this rapidly warming up ecosystem. A wide range of research projects has been carried out and six of these have published their findings in the special edition of Deep-Sea Research.

The Dirck Gerritsz laboratory

Long-term research
Climate change is a gradual process that you can only understand by collecting data via long-term scientific research, conducted over many years. Thanks to an extensive system of measurement instruments that produce a lot of data, our knowledge has increased already. For example there are mobile weather stations, earth-observation satellites, and on Rothera researchers are studying the influence of the climate on the ocean. Measurements for this research are made in the winter and summer and the time series started in 1997 (RaTS, Rothera Time Series).

Effect of global warming
Due to its position and relatively warm climate, the western Antarctic Peninsula is a region where a lot of international research into the marine ecosystem is done. Apart from a few locations in the North Pole region, no other area in the world is warming up as quickly as the Antarctic Peninsula.
That has a direct effect on the area: measurements show that the amount of sea ice is decreasing, the atmosphere is becoming warmer, the seawater temperature is rising and glaciers are receding. For a long time it was thought that the warming up of the atmosphere was causing the loss of ice. However it is actually mainly due to the rising seawater temperature, which is causing the glaciers that extend into the sea to melt from the bottom upwards. The decreasing amount of sea ice influences the quantity of algae, which form the basis of the entire food chain in the area. Algae also produce greenhouse gases such as DMS (dimethyl sulphide), which play a role in the formation of clouds that can cause a cooling of the Earth.

Dirck Gerritsz laboratory
The laboratory is made up of four mini laboratories that have been built in mobile sea containers. The containers have been placed in a docking station. The four laboratories, built by NWO institute NIOZ, have different functions. Two have been equipped as a 'Dry lab', in which sensitive equipment can be set up, one as a 'Clean Lab' – particularly suitable for research into trace metals in seawater - and one as a 'Wet Lab/Cultivation Lab', for carrying out experiments with living algae.

International collaboration
This Dutch laboratory is located at the British polar station Rothera. It allows the Netherlands to provide its own researchers relatively simple access to this hotspot for research. By connecting with the British infrastructure a separate and expensive Dutch base is no longer necessary. Furthermore, the British are very interested in international collaboration and so it was a clear advantage that the Netherlands Polar Programme ties in well with the UK's own research programme. This collaboration therefore benefits both parties. During the selection of the research proposals for the DG lab, NWO and BAS ensured that Dutch research proposals assessed as excellent would also be a valuable addition to the British research.
NWO and BAS are proud of the successful collaboration between both countries: it enables a better understanding whilst ensuring that countries do not have to separately invest scientific research funding in the same type of expensive infrastructure. It is therefore hardly surprising that six of the articles cited in the special issue of Deep-Sea Research are the product of joint research between Dutch and British researchers.

An external committee is currently evaluating the infrastructure that the Netherlands has in the polar regions; the DG lab is an important part of that. Other facilities are a station on Spitsbergen, agreements between NWO with BAS and the German Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) about the use of infrastructure, and the possibility for Dutch researchers to fly to Antarctica via South Africa (DROMLAN agreements). According to the current agreement, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will stop funding the DG lab after 2020.

The special edition has fifteen articles. Dr Jacqueline Stefels and Dr Maria van Leeuwe (both from the University of Groningen) and professor Michael Meredith (BAS) edited this special edition and jointly wrote an introduction.

Michael P. Meredith, Jacqueline Stefels and Maria van Leeuwe, Marine studies at the western Antarctic Peninsula: priorities, progress and prognosis, Deep-Sea Research Part II,
NWO and BAS jointly made the article open access.

Source: NWO


Science area

Exact and Natural Sciences



International collaboration (2015-2018) Thematic research and public -private partnership (2015-2018)