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Chris Williams continues Sir Peter Blake's Enviromental Legacy

In 2021 Blake Expeditions selected 10 students from throughout New Zealand that showed exceptional potential in environmental leadership to go on a scientific research expedition with leading researchers from around the country. I was honored to be chosen. The original plan was a three week expedition in March to the Sub Antarctic Islands on the H.M.S Canterbury. The dreaded Covid pandemic unfortunately forced the cancellation of that expedition. Fortunately the Blake team managed to get us on a research expedition in Doubtful Sound, Fiordland.

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We all arrived in Queenstown and travelled down to Te Anau by bus. From there we helicoptered over to a doubtful sound. For the remainder of the first day we unpacked, introduced ourselves and walked down to the Manapouri power plant tailrace that goes into Doubtful Sound. There we talked about the primary research objective which was to see if the tailrace has any effect on doubtful sound's ability to act as a carbon sink.

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Most fiords don't have tailraces going into them. In these fiords the water sitting at the bottom is usually stagnant and anoxic which is what allows for carbon storage as no decomposition occurs. However in doubtful sound the excess fresh water coming in from the tailrace consequently draws in more oxygenated salt water from the sea into the deeper parts of the fiord which would usually be anoxic. It’s hypothesized that the oxygenated sea water being drawn into doubtful sound is affecting doubtful sounds ability to sequester carbon. The scientists are conducting research to see whether the tailrace does impact the sound's ability to store carbon and if it does, whether or not the power used for Tiwai Point refinery offsets it.

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We spent the rest of the week dragging seismic equipment behind the Tutoko II to map the bottom of the fiords to find future core sampling sights. We took CTD measurements and grab samples from different areas of doubtful sound as well. CTD measures salinity, temperature, depth, oxygen concentration and fluorescence. Grab sampler lets us take samples of the bottom of the sound.

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During the week we saw dolphins, penguins and seals inside the sounds. We worked with professors from Otago University, Stanford PHDs, and GNS scientists who were amazing to learn from. We also went kayaking up the Camelot river on day three and went for a hike on a trail that connects Doubtful Sound to Dusky Sound on the second to last day.

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Overall a fantastic learning experience that has me excited to continue my tertiary studies in this ever-evolving field!

-Chris Williams
2021 Alumnus

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To watch a video about Chris and the crew's research work with Blake Expeditions, click here for a story from TV 3's Newshub.

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