June 08, 2023 #ChileSustentable

World Oceans Day: "We have responded to some scientific problems long before the great powers, providing knowledge of global impact".

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The internationally renowned oceanographer Osvaldo Ulloa, who has led a feat of worldwide repercussion with the descent to a depth of 8,000 meters in the Atacama Trench, assures that Chile has moved ahead of the great scientific powers by contributing knowledge of global impact. 

The oceans play a fundamental role in life: they provide almost half of our oxygen, capturing a third of the carbon we emit into the atmosphere. For this reason - and much more - World Oceans Day is commemorated every June 8 to unite humanity around a sustainable project to protect the marine biosphere, a key resource for combating the climate crisis.

Chile enacted the National Ocean Policy in 2018, which was ratified in November 2022 by the current government through an implementation document, signed by the portfolios of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Environment, Economy, Science, as well as the Chilean Navy. 

This, while through the Turquoise Foreign Policy -a priority axis in the multilateral strategy led by the Foreign Ministry- the Oceans Treaty signed a year ago by Canada, USA, Mexico, Colombia and Chile, for the creation of a marine protection corridor, will be deposited at the United Nations headquarters in New York in the next few days. In this context, during his last public account on June 1, President Gabriel Boric pointed out that Chile has already submitted its candidacy to the UN to become the treaty's host country.

From his residence in Plymouth, UK, the prominent oceanographer Osvaldo Ulloa keeps an eye on these movements, although he calls to move soon from intentions to action.

"I think it is very important that Chile, through the Foreign Ministry and the Turquoise Foreign Policy, is a protagonist in the care of the oceans in the international arena. But there is an old saying that goes: 'you don't take care of what you don't know and don't want...'. We must continue to explore and study the ocean and, at the same time, convey to society its importance and the wonders it possesses."

Chile's Latin American leadership

D. in Oceanography and M.Sc. in Marine Biology from the University of Dalhousie (Canada), postdoctoral fellow at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), director of the Millennium Institute of Oceanography, full professor of the Department of Oceanography of the University of Concepción and member of the Chilean Academy of Sciences, Osvaldo Ulloa is currently in the United Kingdom after receiving the important Royal Society Wolfson Visiting Fellowship, for which he took a sabbatical year. Royal Society Wolfson Visiting Fellowship, for which he took a sabbatical year.

"As a society, we are gradually realizing the importance of the ocean for our present and, above all, for the future," he says. And although he affirms that there is still a long way to go - "as a country we continue to turn our backs on the sea", he says - he also points out that at a scientific level Chile is now globally recognized as a Latin American leader in oceanography, heading one of the most important international rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, better known as the Shanghai ranking. 

"This is very commendable because oceanography is a relatively new discipline in Chile and, in addition, it is expensive, because it requires ships, specialized instruments, etc. Despite this, we have been able to be on par with economic powers such as Brazil and Mexico. All this thanks to the local effort, first by Conicyt, and through the Millennium Science Initiative, and now the National Agency for Research and Development (Anid) of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation. Also for the contribution of the now defunct Andes Foundation. We have been able to respond to scientific problems long before the great powers, contributing from our territory with knowledge of worldwide impact".

In 2018, the researcher led one of the greatest feats of oceanographic science: the exploration to the Atacama Trench, the deepest place in the Southeast Pacific. Through an unmanned autonomous vehicle -the Audacia-, the team commanded by Ulloa positioned Chileans as the first human beings to conquer the deepest point of our sea. A milestone of worldwide repercussion, which determined that in 2022 they were invited to participate in the first manned expedition to the site.

"There is a lot of international interest in coming to work in Chile, both from the oceanographic and geophysical community. The preliminary results of our first expeditions are showing that the Atacama Trench is a unique place, with high biological diversity and endemism (native species). We demonstrate to the world that we have the capabilities to develop research".

Here, at a depth of 8,000 meters, in one of the most extreme and unknown environments on the planet, where light does not penetrate more than a few hundred meters, with a temperature below 2 degrees Celsius and a hydrostatic pressure 800 times higher than at the surface, the team led by Osvaldo Ulloa will soon install the Integrated Deep Ocean Observatory (IDOOS), This will allow us to measure the vertical displacement of the sea floor as a result of the collision of the Nazca plate with the South American plate, allowing us to study the origin of large earthquakes and tsunamis, and other oceanographic processes in the deep and ultra-deep sea of Chile. It will also help us to find major answers to climate change. 

Scientific exploration of the Atacama Trench will continue in 2023 on the Abate Molina vessel of the Instituto de Fomento Pesquero (IFOP). Osvaldo Ulloa describes the feat: "In the anchorages we will put pCO2 sensors (for the moment up to 4000 meters) to see - among other things - how fast the increase of atmospheric CO2 (the main cause of climate change) is penetrating into the deep ocean. Also in the long term we could see changes in temperature and currents. More than answers, what we are looking for at this stage is to understand how the deep ocean works and how it is being impacted by surface phenomena".

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