Asia-Pacific

NZ scientists to study Antarctic whale poo

A New Zealand-led expedition is headed to Antarctica to carry out research in the world's largest marine reserve.

How whale poo affects the Antarctic eco-system will be one of many studies New Zealand scientists hope to undertake during an expedition to the world's largest marine reserve.

The multidisciplinary science expedition by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research was set to leave New Zealand on Thursday for a week-long journey to the Ross Sea shelf break, about 3400km south of Wellington.

A focus will be mapping the ocean floor of the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area as it is affected by global climate change, NIWA Oceanographer Dr Mike Williams says.

"The highest priority is the physical oceanography work where we'll be looking at the outflow of the cold dense water from the Ross Sea into the global ocean," he said.

This will include travelling into new areas to collect data, Dr Wiliams said.

"Part of the marine protected area is an area where we basically don't have any observations about - the more northern areas - we don't even know what the temperature is," he said.

"That kind of information is really really useful in understanding how it will all change."

The 23 scientists onboard will also look at the atmosphere, biology and marine ecosystems of the area.

The job of seeing how whale poo affects eco systems has fallen to Auckland University whale biologist Rochelle Constantine, with preliminary research suggesting plankton rely on it for their iron source.

This week's expedition is the Tangaroa's 12 Antarctic voyage.

Voyage leader Dr David Bowden says sea ice conditions look good but they are expecting some choppiness over the 7500km six-week journey, which may limit data collection.

The Ross Sea Marine Protected area came into effect in December last year and is subject to three-yearly data collection to ensure it meets a number of aims.

These include protecting sea life, measuring the effect of climate change and protecting the area from toothfish fishing.

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