ONC expands Antarctic monitoring with deep ocean Argo floats
Autonomous floats adds another dimension to ONC’s observation efforts in the Southern Ocean
February 15, 2024

Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) has expanded its ocean monitoring infrastructure in the Southern Ocean with the deployment of two deep-sea Argo floats this month which are now transmitting open access ocean data.

The scientific instruments were released on February 3, 2024 (GMT) by ONC's partner, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), into Drake Passage, the body of water between the southernmost point of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica (61 48.27255' S, 64 00.78831' W and 61 48.32472' S, 64 00.788836' W).

Crew aboard the Spanish polar research vessel Hespérides prepare and deploy ONC’s two deep sea Argo floats.

This deployment follows the successful January installation of an ONC-operated subsea observatory at the Spanish Antarctic Station Juan Carlos I, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The autonomous Argo floats were deployed 211 kilometres northwest of this subsea observatory.

“ONC is committed to expanding ocean observing. Doing so in areas of the ocean where observations are sparse is of particular importance to Canada, a nation that strongly supports polar research,” says Kate Moran, ONC president and CEO.

Image carousel: Crew aboard the Spanish polar research vessel Hespérides prepare and deploy ONC’s two deep sea Argo floats in Drake Passage on February 3, 2024 (GMT).
Credit: Jose Luis Alonso and Xavier Vidal, UTM-CSIC technicians for 37th Spanish Campaign.

ONC’s NKE Deep ARVOR autonomous Argo floats have a vertical range of four kilometres—double the depth of most other operational floats. These “droids of the deep” capture a range of oceanographic data while travelling between ocean surface and deep waters, including temperature (heat storage), salinity, pressure and the amount of oxygen gas in seawater, on which most marine species rely to survive.

The Southern Ocean plays a vital role in Earth’s climate system. ONC senior scientist Kohen Bauer says recent research shows that this sensitive ocean region is changing rapidly.

"The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which flows clockwise around Antarctica, is the world's largest current system that connects three major ocean basins–the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian–and plays a key role in the global oceanic uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide and heat through the biological carbon pump as well as through physical mixing,” says Bauer. “The ONC deep Argo floats will provide a useful tool for monitoring changing biogeochemical and physical ocean conditions, as well as dynamics in sea ice extent in this region."

The biological carbon pump is a natural process whereby marine phytoplankton use photosynthesis (just like plants on land) to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic matter, which can sink and/or be mixed deeper into the oceans interior where it decomposes or becomes buried in marine sediments. Without this process, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would be much higher.

The battery powered ARVORs use a mechanism that controls their buoyancy. When a float breaches the surface, it connects via satellite to the International Argo Program data portal to transmit the collected data before beginning the cycle again. The first transmissions were received this week (February 14, 2024) and data will appear in several locations, including this site, once the data is processed.

Argo Canada has also been expanding its contributions to global ocean monitoring with new argo float deployments in the Southern Ocean during this current southern hemisphere summer. This is in addition to its existing float deployments in Canadian waters, the equatorial Pacific, southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

ONC's first Argo deployment

ONC began contributing data to Argo Canada and the international Argo project in 2023 with the deployment of five ONC deep-sea Argo floats in the northeast Pacific Ocean. These floats were the first to explore this region below a two-kilometre depth.

The international Argo Program supports more than 3,000 operational floats that track environmental changes across the global ocean. Argo data is publicly available for free and is used for a broad range of purposes, including assessing climate change, improving weather forecasts and developing ocean models.

The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) is the largest public research institution in Spain and one of the most renowned institutions in the European Research Area. The CSIC’s Marine Technology Unit manages the Spanish Antarctic station, Juan Carlos I, and Camp Byers on Livingston Island, and also coordinates the overall logistics of the Spanish Antarctic campaign.

ONC operates observatories in the deep ocean, coastal waters and land of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts of Canada, and in the Antarctic Ocean, collecting ocean data that accelerates scientific discovery and makes possible services and solutions for a resilient planet. An initiative of the University of Victoria, ONC is supported by the Government of Canada, and is one of the country’s major research facilities.

Media kit available for download here.

Header image: Map shows the Southern Ocean deployment location of ONC deep-sea Argo floats which capture oceanographic data. Also pictured, a resident penguin near the Spanish Antarctic Station - home to ONC’s subsea observatory.
Credit: ONC and Dídac Casado Rodríguez, UTM-CSIC, photographer with the 37th Spanish Campaign.

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