The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) is a division of the Department of the Environment. The AAD is responsible for delivering Outcome 3 of the Department's Strategic Plan 2014–2018, “Advancement of Australia’s strategic, scientific, environmental and economic interests in the Antarctic by protecting, administering and researching the region”.
The Australian Antarctic Division is also responsible for delivering the Australian Antarctic program (AAp) in accordance with government priorities as articulated in the plan.
These are to:
- Lead and collaborate internationally to further Australia’s research and policy interests.
- Enhance Australia’s capability to deliver on Antarctic priorities, and derive optimum benefit from our assets in the region.
- Gain recognition as an international leader in Antarctic science and environmental management.
- Maintain and reinforce Australian sovereignty in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
What we do
The Antarctic Division advances Australia’s strategic, scientific, environmental and economic interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Pursuing these national interests requires us to maintain a strong presence in the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT) and the Southern Ocean, and in the Southern Ocean subantarctic regions at the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) and Macquarie Island and their adjacent waters.
The AAD leads and delivers a world class science program under the Antarctic Science Strategic Plan. The Scientific program focuses on research relevant to the sound environmental stewardship of the AAT, the Southern Ocean and HIMI. It also undertakes work designed to inform policy development by Government and meet our international obligations by understanding the key role that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean plays in Australian and global climate systems. It also informs further understanding around the consequences of climate-driven changes. This work is underpinned by research that furthers understanding of the diversity, structure, function and vulnerability of terrestrial and marine Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems.
The AAD works to engage internationally in matters affecting Antarctic governance arrangements, including through the Antarctic Treaty, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and other international instruments. The AAD pursues relationships of mutual benefit with nations active in eastern Antarctica and with key bilateral partners in order to achieve environmental and scientific goals.
In order to achieve all of the above the AAD operates three permanent research stations within the AAT, from support facilities in Hobart, where we manage and implement a combination of sea, air and continental transport capabilities to achieve our interests. We also administer and manage the AAT and HIMI in order to meet international obligations and domestic legislative requirements.In the subantarctic, the AAD maintains a research station on Macquarie Island that coordinates and, participates in research activities. At Macquarie Island, the Division services the needs of the Australian Government including, where relevant, supporting the Tasmanian Government’s activities.
Staff and facilities
Over 300 staff (permanent and temporary) are employed, including:
- support centre, policy and science personnel based at Kingston in Tasmania
- the summer and wintering expeditioners serving in the Antarctic and subantarctic
- key program scientists located at the University of Tasmania
The Kingston buildings house laboratories for science, electronics and electron microscopy, mechanical and instrument workshops, a krill research aquarium, equipment stores, communications and other operational and support facilities.
Major science programs and individual research projects are developed to achieve Australia’s key Antarctic science goals, which are reviewed periodically in line with national and global research priorities. Collaborative research programs are also conducted with other Australian agencies, research institutions and international bodies.
Antarctic environmental management
We develop and administer Australia’s Antarctic environmental management plans and provide Australia's input to the Committee for Environmental Protection under the Madrid Protocol. We are the first national operator amongst Treaty countries to implement a certified Environmental Management System to the international standard ISO14001.
Australia maintains three stations on the Antarctic continent – Mawson, Davis, and Casey – and a subantarctic station on Macquarie Island. All have modern buildings with living quarters, research laboratories, power houses, stores, workshops and other operational facilities. Remote field bases operate during the summer research season, supporting coastal, inland and traverse operations.
Sea and air transport
Australia’s icebreaker, RSV Aurora Australis is the platform for a large annual marine research effort focussed on the Southern Ocean and assists in resupplying our research stations, with additional ships chartered when required. Resupply ships depend on favourable sea-ice conditions and can operate only during the summer season. The jet aircraft link, between Hobart and a 3.5 km blue-ice runway near Casey, greatly improves access, and has increased Australia’s field support capability. Long range fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters operate in summer between the Antarctic continental stations and field research sites.
Research data and publications
The Australian Antarctic Data Centre integrates the research data sets created by our science programs and makes these accessible to scientists globally via the internet. Scientific publications are listed on our website.
The Antarctic Treaty
One of the most successful of international agreements, the Antarctic Treaty has provided the basis for managing the Antarctic since its entry into force in 1961. The treaty has put aside the potential for differences over questions of sovereignty and provides for scientific cooperation.
With over 100 years of direct involvement in the region, and claiming 42% of the continent, Australia has strong interests in the Treaty and takes its responsibilities as a Treaty nation very seriously. Australia took a leading role in the formulation of the Treaty and is one of the 12 original signatories and Consultative Parties.
We provide a strong and informed voice in all forums of the Antarctic Treaty system which includes the Treaty and several related instruments including
- Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals – regulates any future commercial sealing, totally protecting some species and setting catch limits for others.
- Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – regards the Southern Ocean as an integrated ecosystem, protects species and regulates fishing. The AAD leads Australia’s scientific and policy effort within CCAMLR.
- Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol) – bans mining and gives legal force to environmental protection measures to ensure environmental impact assessment of all activities, conserve Antarctic living organisms, manage waste disposal, prevent marine pollution, and protect special areas.
We bring Antarctica closer to all Australians through our popular website, special publications, educational resources, and by making Antarctica accessible to film makers, journalists, writers and artists through the annual Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship and Media Program. We also manage a substantial polar research library and collections of photographs and audio-visual materials that form a major part of Australia’s Antarctic heritage.