These stunning photographs were taken by Niwa researchers during a six-week 12,000km voyage to Antarctica during our summer.
The 20 scientists and 19 crew set sail in early January to undertake an ambitious programme to learn more about key environmental and biological processes in the Ross Sea led by fisheries scientist Dr Richard O'Driscoll.
O'Driscoll said that the weather was fairly mild by Antarctic standards ranging from –2 C to 1C.
"We were really fortunate not to have lost any days because of bad weather. There were some issues with the ice and having to navigate around it but that was all," he said. Some days were too hot to wear their insulated suits when working outside.
The team were focused on the tiniest animals, plankton and phytoplankton, collecting seawater daily to study it under microscopes, detecting hundreds of individuals in just one drop.
"Understanding what controls the diversity, production and carbon cycling of these tiny organisms is critical to predict the impact of climate change in the Southern Ocean region," O'Driscoll says.
The cycles and processes occurring in the Antarctic and their dependence on light and nutrients had repercussions for the entire planet, he said.
The data collected in these surveys will help with the understanding of the key processes that drive the environment and oceanography of the region and assessing the potential impacts of climate change. It was the third in a series of voyages focused on providing baseline information about the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) established in 2017.
Technicians were also able to retrieve and redeploy several moorings which have been in place for two years. Among those were three acoustic sensors which have been listening for the sounds of sperm whales.
Historically common on the Ross Sea Slope, scientists hope to find out where their populations are concentrated, how they interact and where they go.
O'Driscoll said scientists still had much to learn about the Ross Sea MPA but they had managed to collect a huge amount of information that would increase understanding and make a substantial contribution to long-term understanding and management of the area.
The voyage was one of the few scientific undertakings in Antarctica this season due to Covid and Dr O'Driscoll said everyone on board realised how fortunate they had been when the rest of the world was so disrupted.
"To come here and work unaffected by the global situation has been a real privilege."