Over the past few decades, Norway has not been involved in mapping the resources in the Southern Ocean, and that is one of the reasons why the Institute of Marine Research decided to instigate a project in the Southern Ocean during the International Polar Year. The project was given the title Antarctic Krill Ecosystem Studies, and its objective was to study the Antarctic ecosystem.
The pelagic resources around Bouvet Island, a Norwegian dependent area, had not previously been investigated until the winter of 2008, when the Institute of Marine Research mapped the physical environment, the marine resources – including krill – and the pelagic ecosystem of the area.
The Antarctic expedition was planned by the Institute of Marine Research in collaboration with the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo, the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, which made it possible to carry out a number of different research projects. In addition to the main objective, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate ordered a survey of the Astrid ridge off Dronning Maud Land. On the way to the Antarctic, the University of Bergen/ The Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research performed climate-related studies off Brazil and in Drake Passage, and on the return journey to Norway they carried out an ecosystem study off Namibia. The expedition was financed by the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, The Research Council of Norway, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, the Institute of Marine Research, the University of Bergen, the Norwegian Polar Institute’s NARE programme and a small contribution from Norsk Hydro. Organisations with a commercial interest in Antarctic krill fishing did not take part in the planning, financing or implementation of the expedition.
The expedition to the Southern Ocean was very successful both from a scientific and operational point of view, providing us with useful readings and important data that is now being collated, analysed and reported. The first results are in the process of being published in respected scientific journals. The expedition will expand our knowledge about the ecosystem in the waters around Bouvet Island, which is dominated by gelatinous organisms (salps) and krill, improve our understanding of the acoustic properties of krill, which is vital to the future management of the area, and give us important insight into the scientific basis for climate change, and into past climate change in these waters.
The Institute of Marine Research’s Board decided to study the Southern Ocean because of its strategic importance. A unanimous decision was reached at the Board meeting of 7 August 2006. Liv Grønnevet abstained from the discussion on the matter. The resolution read as follows: “The Board proposes that the Institute of Marine Research plays a visible role in the International Polar Year, and that the Institute of Marine Research, within the IPY, prioritises IPY projects in northern waters, and continues planning an ecosystem study in the Antarctic”.
On 12 December 2006 the Board took up the matter again. Liv Grønnevet, the Chair of the Board, once again abstained from the discussion. The Board’s resolution reads:
1. The Board proposes that the “G.O. Sars” participates in an IPY voyage to the Antarctic, as set out on the agenda.
2. We ask that the management team works to raise additional external funding to cover a replacement vessel and the cost of the voyage.
3. The Board allocates up to NOK 5 million from the institute’s gross surplus to cover any shortfall in external funding.
In April 2007 the item was again on the agenda at a Board meeting. On that occasion the Board reached the following resolution:
“1. The Board wishes to point out that the planned voyage of the “G.O. Sars” to the Antarctic during the IPY will gather significant scientific information with a direct impact on the consultancy role of the institute.
2. The Board wishes to point out that the voyage accords with the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs’ management strategy, and would also like to emphasise that performing the voyage would support Norwegian national interests in the region.
3. The Board is working on the assumption that the tasks detailed in the letter of allocation will be performed.
4. The Board believes that the Institute of Marine Research is being asked to cover a high proportion of the costs, and is working on the assumption that external funding will increase, and that external participation will not be reduced.
5. The Board resolves that the expedition of the “G.O. Sars” to the Antarctic be implemented as planned, unless the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs has major objections”.
The expedition to the Southern Ocean lasted from 15 November 2007 to the start of May 2008.