Ferrybox seeks to explore the secrets of Chile's cold southern seas

SANTIAGO, March 24 (Reuters) - Between pristine fjords and channels in Chile's extreme south, the Yaghan ferry has a new mission: capture vital information on understudied subantarctic waters and help the region adapt to a warming planet.

The device that will help the Yaghan ferry complete its new task is the Ferrybox. With an array of sensors that measure water temperature, oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll, CO2 concentration and Ph, the Ferrybox in the Yaghan ferry is the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Ricardo Giesecke, a marine ecosystems researcher at the Austral University of Chile, said his team also developed a one-of-a-kind prototype that collects microalgae toxins. After about a decade, Giesecke hopes the prototype can help map out how climate change is affecting the region.

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"If we affect primary producers, which are microalgae, we're going to see how the rest of the organisms are affected," Giesecke said. "Everything will be affected. Everything is connected."

In the near term, Giesecke said the Ferrybox will help measure the effects of melting glaciers and provide key data on when and why marine systems are more productive. This will help give scientists a better picture of marine life in the little-studied subantarctic region.

"These 'production pulses' largely define the productivity the system is going to have, how many whales we're going to have, how many sea lions, how much fishing," Giesecke said.

The Ferrybox has just started collecting data during the Yaghan's scenic glacier-filled 550-kilometer trajectory from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, but with enough data, Giesecke hopes the Ferrybox could help the region adjust to a warming planet.

"If we reduce uncertainty (of these systems) through a good database, climate change models for this region can be adjusted and that would help take adaptability and resilience measures," Giesecke said.

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Reporting by Rodrigo Gutierrez; Writing by Fabián Andrés Cambero and Alexander Villegas; Editing by Mark Porter

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