Viking Expeditions increases research involvement

2024-05-28T19:55:32+00:00 May 28th, 2024|Environment|

This month, Viking has revealed its latest scientific advancement on board the company’s expedition fleet with the addition of real-time environmental DNA (eDNA) sequencing of phytoplankton.

With scientific support from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), the PCR lab on board ‘Viking Octantis’ has been converted into an advanced scientific environment where visiting scientists contributing to the Genomics at Sea Programme (GASP) are able to monitor the environmental impact on phytoplankton without the need to transport samples to a distant shoreside facility.

This marks a significant milestone in marine research and exploration, as Viking becomes the first travel company to support real-time environmental genetic sequencing capabilities on board its vessels, the company claimed.

The on board advancements and participation in GASP are an extension from Viking’s role collaborating with Fjord Phyto, a NASA-funded programme by Scripps, which enables guests to participate in research and public education through sampling of polar phytoplankton for genetic population analyses.

“Ever since we created Viking Expeditions, it has always been our intention to help facilitate meaningful scientific work,” explained Karine Hagen, Executive Vice President of Viking.

“As we continue our third year of operating expeditions, we are pleased that we have been able to achieve our goal alongside esteemed scientific partners.

“By re-purposing a technology that kept our guests safe in the height of the pandemic to gain valuable insights into our environment, we are providing a critical research opportunity for all of our future expedition voyages,” she said.

The conversion of the ’Viking Octantis’ PCR lab took place earlier this year while the ship was in Antarctica. Viking will regularly host Scripps scientists on board the ship this season in the Great Lakes.

This summer, the PCR lab on board her identical sistership, ‘Viking Polaris’, will also be transitioned to further support research efforts before both ships return to Antarctica later this year.

Viking claimed that it had created the world’s leading scientific enrichment environment in an expedition setting with the help of partnerships with academic institutions.

During each expedition, visiting researchers from partner institutions are part of the multi-disciplinary 36-person expedition team. This group of experts leads guests through scientific research, providing guiding and interpretation during shore excursions and delivering lectures.

Viking’s partner Scripps Institution of Oceanography works to understand environmental challenges, while JCVI’s mission is advancing science of genomics to understand more about the biological world.

“We are excited about the significant scientific potential represented by this collaboration,” said Andrew Allen, a professor of marine biology at Scripps and JCVI.

“Our ability to understand how ocean plankton communities respond to shifting conditions, resulting from both natural variation and human influenced perturbation, is limited by sampling and observation.

“Through this work we will obtain a new and more comprehensive view of the genetic diversity of plankton, which will advance our ability to assess the biological response of the ocean to climate change and other stressors,” he said.

In addition to hosting visiting researchers from Scripps and JCVI on board voyages to Antarctica and the Great Lakes, Viking has also supported scientists with the equipment on land to allow for proper training and efficient execution of sequencing while on voyages with Viking’s expedition fleet.

“Oceanic phytoplankton absorbs 40% of the world’s carbon and provides 50% of the world’s atmospheric oxygen. Along with the world’s forests, they are the ‘planet’s lungs’ and every second breath we take comes from phytoplankton,” added Dr Damon Stanwell-Smith, Viking’s Head of Science.

“We are proud to offer our scientific partners the ability to better understand these organisms that play a critical role in the Earth’s carbon cycle in these remote regions.”

In addition to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, Viking’s other scientific partners include:

  • The University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI): Scientists from SPRI undertake fieldwork on board Viking’s expedition ships and join voyages to share expertise with guests. Cambridge University’s SPRI played a significant role in developing the scientific enrichment program for Viking Expeditions. Specialists from the Institute were also consulted in the development of The Science Lab on Viking’s expedition vessels; the 380-square-foot lab is comprehensively appointed with wet and dry laboratory facilities and supports a broad range of research. .
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Ornithologists are regularly on board Viking’s expedition vessels, undertaking post-doctoral research on new observation methods and providing guest advice and interaction.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL): Conducts innovative research on the dynamic environments and ecosystems of the Great Lakes and coastal regions to provide information for resource use and management decisions that lead to safe and sustainable ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human communities. Viking’s expedition ships have been designated official NOAA/US National Weather Service weather balloon stations, from which regular launches are undertaken.
  • Norwegian Institute of Water Research (NIVA): Scientists from NIVA are engaged in cross-disciplinary research programs on water-related issues. On Viking’s expedition ships, NIVA ‘FerryBox system’ of automated oceanographic instruments are installed to sample the marine and freshwater regions where the vessels sail, to provide continuous information about chlorophyll, oxygen, temperature, salinity, microplastic presence and complementary meteorological data.
  • Oceanites: Viking has partnered with Oceanites, an American not-for-profit field research entity that has led on Antarctic penguin monitoring for the past 30 years.
  • The IUCN Species Survival Commission Species Monitoring Specialist Group: Viking co-ordinates with this international group of experts to develop marine biodiversity monitoring systems that enable Viking expedition vessels to collect valuable species population data.

Norwegian Polar Institute: The permitting authority for Viking’s Norwegian flagged expedition vessels, who review and approve all of Viking’s expedition and science activities in Antarctica.