A Summer in the Freezing Southern Ocean


Paige Maroni

Paige Maroni (right), searching rock samples for benthic biota hauled from the depths of the Southern Ocean.

Marshall Waters, Reporter

When you picture a PHD student, do you think of a woman on the deck of a ship surveying off the coast of Antarctica, sifting through muck looking for organisms living at extreme depths in freezing water and high seas?

This is exactly where UWA PhD student, Paige Maroni, decided to spend her summer.

RV investigator

She was aboard the RV investigator, and it recently docked in Perth to end a two-month long journey that saw a group of scientists perform a variety of experiments in tough conditions.

The main focus of the voyage was to study the separation of tectonic plates that split a giant oceanic plateau into two major Indian Ocean seafloor features, Broken Ridge and the Kerguelen Plateau.

By the end of the trip, more than 100,000 square kilometres of the Southern Ocean seafloor had been mapped, much of it for the first time.

Picture by Paige Maroni
When the ship rolls in big swells

Paige’s Research

Paige was onboard for very different research to her colleagues.

She took advantage of rock dredging that pulled samples from the ocean floor.

“We were looking for organisms that had probably never been collected before especially not from depths that we were collecting at about 4,800 metres,” she said.

That involved a lot of sifting through deep sea muck for organic samples which will require further investigation.

Tough conditions

But hanging out on a ship off the coast of Antarctica wasn’t quite a relaxing cruise.

The conditions weren’t always favourable for research.

“Eight metres was the standard big swell and on valentine’s day we were treated to a 12 metre swell, which was pretty fun…it was beautiful to see that kind of power pass through.”

Those waves were three storeys tall.

There was also weather to go with those choppy seas.

“It was pretty brisk… the air kind of cut through. I’d go out for two minutes at a time then jump back in and rub my hands together…it was cold.”

Picture by Paige Maroni
50 knot winds pushing the RV Investigator in the Southern Ocean.

“Nat Geo moment”

It wasn’t always high seas and freezing weather.

Paige is an avid photographer and spent plenty of time on deck photographing a variety of sea birds and keeping an eye out for marine life.

“On Australia Day we had about a hundred pilot whales and hourglass glass dolphins come and check us out.

“It was one of those ‘Nat Geo’ moments where the boat was completely surrounded by these amazing whales,” she said.