Spanish SVAIS expedition investigates Arctic Ocean

A recent expedition by the University of Barcelona (UB) took researchers to the Arctic Ocean in order to study natural climate change and the evolution of the Arctic continental margin. The
SVAIS expedition spent the boreal summer from the end of July to the middle of August north of the Arctic Circle, mapping more than 8,600 square kilometres of ocean floor and gathering samples
of ocean sediment.

‘The Arctic is the closest polar area to us and is much more sensitive to climate change than the Antarctic, with the exception of the Antarctic Peninsula,’ says geologist Angelo Camerlenghi
from the Italian National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics. Dr Camerlenghi was scientific director of the SVAIS expedition. ‘The Poles are the motors of the world’s ocean
circulation; they reflect solar radiation and help to lower global temperatures. In addition, the Polar Regions provide unique information on the history of our planet and store climate records
dating back millions of years. The Arctic is a delicate environmental sensor that highlights the effects of climate change.’

Most importantly, the researchers wanted to gain insights into the evolution of the polar continental margins in this region of the Arctic, and to study the topography of the ocean floor in the
Fram Straight – an area in which the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean come into contact with the warmer waters of the Atlantic. ‘We want to examine the sediments transported by the large ice
streams that flowed across the Arctic 20,000 years ago during the last glacial maximum,’ says Professor Antoni Calafat from the UB, ‘to understand the intensity and the duration of climate
processes originated by the Poles.’

In addition, the expedition used multibeam bathymetry and seismic reflection to gather information on the structure of the ocean floor. Only 10% of the world’s ocean floor has been mapped in
detail, so ‘there are still many ocean regions across the world that need to be mapped’, says Miquel Canals, head of the Marine Geosciences Research Group at the UB.

The SVAIS project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. Alongside the University of Barcelona, several other institutions were involved in the study, including the
Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), the Chemical and Environmental Research Institute of Barcelona (IIQAB-CSIC), the University of Salamanca, the Italian National
Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS) of Trieste and the Universities of Svalbard and Tromsø in Norway. The expedition
team on board the Spanish navy research vessel BIO Hespérides was made up 21 scientists, four journalists, two school teachers and five technicians from the Marine Technology Unit of the
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

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