New Zealand IPY-CAML project

New Zealand is conducting a major biological survey of the Ross Sea, in the Antarctic, as part of the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) and International Polar Year (IPY).

Up to 26 scientists and 18 crew will take part in an eight-week voyage aboard RV Tangaroa during February and March 2008. 

More on the Tangaroa>>

The data captured will provide baseline information from the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea environment that can be used to help monitor the effects of climate change in the Ross Sea region.

With a biodiversity focus, the intention is to collect samples of living material from the sea surface to the seafloor, from microscopic to mega-size across a wide range of environmental and geographic gradients. This includes collecting biological samples and capturing images of the seafloor down to depths of 4000m, in unexplored areas.

The results will feed into New Zealand’s marine research programme in the Ross Sea region, and will support our commitment to improving sustainable management of the toothfish fishery. This provides important information to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) which is part of the Antarctic Treaty System.

The voyage also has strong links with other key research programmes including International Polar Year (IPY), Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), (part of the Census of Marine Life (CoML)) and New Zealand’s Oceans Survey 20/20.

Project Connections

New Zealand
The project is a major collaboration between Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Antarctica New Zealand, Te Papa, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and New Zealand universities.

The voyage also connects to New Zealand’s whole-of-government, Ocean Survey 20/20 programme, where it is one of several voyages proposed over a number of years.

In addition, there is international collaboration with Italian, USA, Canadian, and Australian scientists.

International Polar Year (IPY) is a global scientific programme designed to better understand the land and sea environments of the Arctic and Antarctic and the effects of climate changes on them. The IPY programme began in March 2007 and runs until March 2009 to cover two sampling seasons at each pole.

The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) is one of many international research programmes that falls under the IPY umbrella. It is a multi-national research project involving 23 countries in 11 co-ordinated voyages, to survey marine life and habitats around Antarctica. CAML is one of the broader Census of Marine Life projects (CoML) which aims to determine the diversity of marine species across all oceans and depths by 2010.

What the project will contribute to

Data from New Zealand’s IPY-CAML voyage will contribute to the Census of Antarctic Marine Life circumpolar programme by exploring the links between the abundance and distribution of organisms in the Ross Sea region across a range of environmental gradients.

Voyage data will provide important new information for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) which is part of the Antarctic Treaty System. In particular, population estimates of fish bycatch species will be obtained for the first time, and the range of sampling methods will provide new data for an ecosystem model being developed for the region. New Zealand leads a comprehensive marine research programme in the Ross Sea region, and the results from the IPY-CAML project will support our commitment to improving sustainable management of fisheries in the region.

Climate change and its effects on Polar Regions are high profile issues. The IPY-CAML project will collect baseline data about the Southern Ocean environment, and identify key indicators that can be used to monitor the effects of climate change on the Ross Sea ecosystem.

The Science

The research objectives are being developed within an agreed framework that sets out the desired outcomes from a government agency perspective. Of importance is public outreach and the raising of New Zealand’s Antarctic marine science profile in the International arena.

Phases of the project

Phase 1 - Preparation and completion of the 2008 voyage.

Phase 2 - Post-voyage analysis of the data collected that will take place over the following three years.


The overall science objectives will focus on:

1. The relationships between patterns of species distribution and abundance across environmental gradients down to a maximum depth of 4000m in the Ross Sea region.

2. The feeding dynamics and functional roles of the major biological groups in the Ross Sea and regional ecosystem, with particular reference to improving inputs to ecosystem modelling.

3. Baseline measures of the marine environment and potential indicators to monitor change in response to environmental or anthropogenic forcing (e.g., climate change, fishery impacts) within the context of the extreme Antarctic environment.

Sampling and research focus
The biological components to be sampled during the voyage include viruses, bacteria, plankton, benthic fauna, cephalopods, fish and top predators. Analyses to describe the biodiversity in the Ross Sea and contribute to the Census of Antarctic Marine Life Programme will explore measures of endemism, species richness, complexity, taxonomic distinctness and genetic diversity throughout the region. The relationships between the biological patterns observed and different environmental gradients will include the water column from surface to seabed at different bottom depths, substrate type, bottom slope, water mass, ice cover and ice-berg scour.

To understand how the ecosystem functions dynamically, studies of feeding patterns will be carried out across as many biological groups as possible and the information used to improve ecosystem modelling of the Ross Sea region. Understanding ecosystem function and the effects of toothfish fishing in the Ross Sea is a key requirement for fisheries management under CCAMLR.

Ocean acidity and other water chemistry attributes are critical pieces of information that will be collected throughout the voyage to not only characterise the hydrological setting of the region, but to also provide baseline measures for monitoring environmental change. Other potential indicators will be investigated for their utility in longterm ecosystem monitoring.

The data collected will provide a host of other new information. For example, habitat and biological mapping will greatly improve progress on “bioregionalisation” of the area. Many hundreds of species will be taxonomically described and genetically “barcoded” to facilitate species identification in the region. The project will allow New Zealand and other international collaborators to explore concepts of evolution and species divergence in the Southern Ocean. Seamounts east of the Balleny Islands will be sampled to provide a comparison with previous surveys at the Balleny Islands and improve understanding of the role that seamounts and island outcrops play in marine biodiversity and faunal refuges in the Southern Ocean.

The voyage

Following six days of transit time from Wellington down to the Ross Sea, the research vessel Tangaroa will commence sampling in the southernmost part of the survey area during the period of time when the seasonal ice is least extensive. The plan is to sample across the Ross Sea shelf as far east as the ice conditions allow (see map).

The vessel will then work its way north to a central area where sampling will focus on depths where the toothfish vessels tend to operate. Towards the end of the voyage, Tangaroa will move north again towards deeper water (the ‘abyss’) and sampling some seamounts in the Admiralty seamount range and around Scott Island.

The science programme will have contingencies built in for pack ice, inclement weather or other events that can modify sampling location.

Survey design and daily routine

Survey design
Approximately 26 core sites have been selected throughout the Ross Sea region for full sampling. There will also be additional sampling locations for particular aspects of the research programme. The survey programme has been designed to mesh-in four different survey approaches to sampling different components of the ecosystem.

There will be a pelagic survey which will sample and estimate the diversity and abundance of organisms in the water column using a combination of acoustics and net sampling (fine mesh midwater trawling, plankton nets).

A demersal survey will sample and estimate the diversity and abundance of bottom living fish using a small bottom trawl and deep sea camera systems.

A benthic survey will sample the seabed fauna including organisms just above, on and in the seabed. A range of benthic sleds and the camera system will be used and the substrate will be sampled by a multi-corer.

Throughout the voyage, and at core stations, a water chemistry and hydrological survey will take place. At core stations, water samples from different depths will be collected to obtain a wide range of chemical signatures and microbial samples.

Daily Routine
Multibeam bathymetric and acoustic imagery of the seabed will be collected at each station. On a daily basis the scientists onboard will work in with the skipper and crew to agree on the plan for the day. Each person will have a well defined role and will assist with a range of tasks from sifting through mud samples to sorting and identifying fish and squid or storing tissue samples in liquid nitrogen for genetic studies. A team of technical specialists will provide electronic and computer expertise to maintain electronic equipment and data capture systems.

The sorting, labelling and storage of samples and data collected form a major part of the workload during the voyage and it is very important that attention to detail is carried out so that the post-voyage analyses can be maximised.

The vessel will follow strict protocols regarding the CCAMLR and Antarctic protocols associated with conducting research from a vessel in the area.

Education/outreach programme

To make the IPY voyage accessible for school students, an education outreach programme has been developed for the voyage. The programme will focus on high school students in years 9 and 10 and collaborates with the recently launched Science Learning Hub at Waikato University.

The Science Learning Hub has been set up to explore New Zealand’s world class research, science and technology sectors and provides resources to support fresh thinking in science teaching and learning in our schools. The Science Learning Hub is funded through the Ministry of Research Science and Techonology (MoRST) and is a collaboration between scientists and educators which provides an online portal to link science research organisations with school teachers and students.

The IPY Voyage segment on this website ( will
consist of an introductory page and map and a set of theme pages. These themes will
be added to the website sequentially on a weekly basis (over 8 weeks of the voyage).

The themes will include: 

  • Research vessel 
  • Life on Board 
  • Fish 
  • Benthos 
  • Seamounts 
  • Ocean currents in the Southern Ocean 
  • Plankton 
  • Food webs
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Updated : 11 September 2013