Chilean Navy Supports Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic

Chilean Navy Supports Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic

By Dialogo
March 05, 2015






The Chilean Navy’s AP-46 icebreaker Almirante Óscar Viel and the AP-41 transport vessel Aquiles recently participated in the maritime stage of the 51st Antarctic Science Expedition (ECA), organized by the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH).

“Both logistical platforms were vital to our reaching remote sites in Antarctica that were the objectives of the research projects,” said INACH scientific coordinator Verónica Vallejos.

From January 10 to February 20, the Aquiles and the Oscar Viel provided support to 25 projects and transported 228 people – including scientists and Navy personnel – to Antarctica and an extensive zone in the South Shetland Islands, an archipelago located 120 kilometers from the Antarctic Peninsula, between the Drake Passage to the north and the Bransfield Strait to the south.

The budget for the 51st ECA came to 250 million pesos ($ 403,165), financed by INACH and the National Science and Technology Commission (CONICYT).

Studying the marine ecosystem and climate change


The ECA's primary goal was to study the Antarctic's marine ecosystem - specifically, to observe how several microorganisms had adapted to the extreme environment, acquiring knowledge that could benefit humans.

The research also sought to expand geological, botanical, and topographical knowledge of the Antarctic and the South Shetland Islands.

The group of scientists performed studies related to climate change and how it is affecting the different species native to the polar region.

The first stage of the expedition, from January 10-20, was led by the AP-46 Almirante Óscar Viel, the only Chilean icebreaker capable of exploring the most remote areas in the Antarctic. It joined the project during the exploration of Margarita Bay, located south of the Antarctic Circle, during a 4,000-nautical-mile tour.

Five scientific projects and 15 researchers involved in marine and algal studies travelled aboard the Óscar Viel. They included Rómulo Oses, from the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), who is studying the effect of the physiological development and biochemical responses of endophyte fungi (which live in plants) on Antarctic grasses under current conditions and in light of climate change.

“Being able to visit these places gave us a vital view from the field for our research. We were also able to collect plants from very remote sites for our research,” Oses said.

The AP-41 Aquiles led the second stage of the expedition, from January 21 to February 6. The multipurpose vessel has a displacement of approximately 5,000 tons, and storage capacity for 40 20-foot containers. This year, the ship added two helicopters from the Chilean Air Force to support the scientists’ transportation needs.

Scientific projects focused on microbes and plants


The work was largely performed in the South Shetland Islands and the northern section of Antarctica, up to Paradise Bay, where 40 scientists executed 20 projects focusing on the study of microbes and plants in the area. The aim was to find potential applications for the pharmaceutical, textile, and foodstuff industries.

“Our support in completing the scientific work is one of the most important activities for this commission,” said Commander Fragata Rodolfo Yáñez, the Aquiles’s commanding officer.

The ship is the primary means of transportation for the Navy to these latitudes; it traveled 2,613 nautical miles and provided support to 10 Chilean bases and nine foreign-country bases, including Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria, and Germany.

The weather was the main challenge. Winds and low visibility caused by dense fog delayed the schedule of activities and impeded the execution of three projects. One such project was research on the Antarctic fly, led by Tamara Contador from the University of Magallanes.

“We were unable to reach a location where we could take samples of the insect at lakes and lagoons because they were frozen. It was as if winter were overstaying its welcome,” Vallejos said.

Complying with the Madrid Protocol


The Aquiles transported 128 cubic meters of waste to Punta Arenas, thereby complying with the Madrid Protocol, according to Cmdr. Yáñez. Approved in 1991 and appended to the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid Protocol is intended to combat any type of contamination in Antarctica.

One of the primary milestones for the expedition was the reopening of the Yelcho Base on Doumer Island, located at 64.9º South latitude and 63.6º West longitude, and home to many marine animals.

After 15 years, a group of scientists has returned to work at the base, which has been remodeled with a new, multi-use dry laboratory and another wet lab, in addition to tanks for storing living marine organisms. The base can accommodate 13 people.

March 5 will mark the end of the 51st ECA with the return of the last five scientists, who have worked at the installations since January.





The Chilean Navy’s AP-46 icebreaker Almirante Óscar Viel and the AP-41 transport vessel Aquiles recently participated in the maritime stage of the 51st Antarctic Science Expedition (ECA), organized by the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH).

“Both logistical platforms were vital to our reaching remote sites in Antarctica that were the objectives of the research projects,” said INACH scientific coordinator Verónica Vallejos.

From January 10 to February 20, the Aquiles and the Oscar Viel provided support to 25 projects and transported 228 people – including scientists and Navy personnel – to Antarctica and an extensive zone in the South Shetland Islands, an archipelago located 120 kilometers from the Antarctic Peninsula, between the Drake Passage to the north and the Bransfield Strait to the south.

The budget for the 51st ECA came to 250 million pesos ($ 403,165), financed by INACH and the National Science and Technology Commission (CONICYT).

Studying the marine ecosystem and climate change


The ECA's primary goal was to study the Antarctic's marine ecosystem - specifically, to observe how several microorganisms had adapted to the extreme environment, acquiring knowledge that could benefit humans.

The research also sought to expand geological, botanical, and topographical knowledge of the Antarctic and the South Shetland Islands.

The group of scientists performed studies related to climate change and how it is affecting the different species native to the polar region.

The first stage of the expedition, from January 10-20, was led by the AP-46 Almirante Óscar Viel, the only Chilean icebreaker capable of exploring the most remote areas in the Antarctic. It joined the project during the exploration of Margarita Bay, located south of the Antarctic Circle, during a 4,000-nautical-mile tour.

Five scientific projects and 15 researchers involved in marine and algal studies travelled aboard the Óscar Viel. They included Rómulo Oses, from the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), who is studying the effect of the physiological development and biochemical responses of endophyte fungi (which live in plants) on Antarctic grasses under current conditions and in light of climate change.

“Being able to visit these places gave us a vital view from the field for our research. We were also able to collect plants from very remote sites for our research,” Oses said.

The AP-41 Aquiles led the second stage of the expedition, from January 21 to February 6. The multipurpose vessel has a displacement of approximately 5,000 tons, and storage capacity for 40 20-foot containers. This year, the ship added two helicopters from the Chilean Air Force to support the scientists’ transportation needs.

Scientific projects focused on microbes and plants


The work was largely performed in the South Shetland Islands and the northern section of Antarctica, up to Paradise Bay, where 40 scientists executed 20 projects focusing on the study of microbes and plants in the area. The aim was to find potential applications for the pharmaceutical, textile, and foodstuff industries.

“Our support in completing the scientific work is one of the most important activities for this commission,” said Commander Fragata Rodolfo Yáñez, the Aquiles’s commanding officer.

The ship is the primary means of transportation for the Navy to these latitudes; it traveled 2,613 nautical miles and provided support to 10 Chilean bases and nine foreign-country bases, including Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria, and Germany.

The weather was the main challenge. Winds and low visibility caused by dense fog delayed the schedule of activities and impeded the execution of three projects. One such project was research on the Antarctic fly, led by Tamara Contador from the University of Magallanes.

“We were unable to reach a location where we could take samples of the insect at lakes and lagoons because they were frozen. It was as if winter were overstaying its welcome,” Vallejos said.

Complying with the Madrid Protocol


The Aquiles transported 128 cubic meters of waste to Punta Arenas, thereby complying with the Madrid Protocol, according to Cmdr. Yáñez. Approved in 1991 and appended to the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid Protocol is intended to combat any type of contamination in Antarctica.

One of the primary milestones for the expedition was the reopening of the Yelcho Base on Doumer Island, located at 64.9º South latitude and 63.6º West longitude, and home to many marine animals.

After 15 years, a group of scientists has returned to work at the base, which has been remodeled with a new, multi-use dry laboratory and another wet lab, in addition to tanks for storing living marine organisms. The base can accommodate 13 people.

March 5 will mark the end of the 51st ECA with the return of the last five scientists, who have worked at the installations since January.
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