Macquarie Island science

Two elephant seals on the beach with king penguins in the background.
The large population of wildlife on Macquarie Island, including these elephant seals and king penguins, ensures that biological science is an important part of scientific research on the island. (Photo: Kerry Steinberner)
A range of atmospheric instruments inside a fenced area on Macquarie Island. A black-browed albatross with chick on Macquarie Island.A female scientist stands in front of several neatly arranged small soil pots

Scientific research and long-term monitoring programs have been conducted on Macquarie Island since the research station was established almost 70 years ago.

Between 2000 and 2016, 347 scientists have conducted 108 science projects on Macquarie Island. Research has addressed a wide range of scientific disciplines, but in more recent years this has been strategically focussed on conservation and environmental management, with around 25 per cent of projects related to aspects of climate change research.

The large population of wildlife on Macquarie Island (penguins, flying seabirds and seals) ensure that biological sciences remain an important part of the overall research program. Other scientific programs undertaken on Macquarie Island include upper atmosphere physics, geoscience, medicine, meteorology and remediation.

All of the research undertaken within the program addresses the priorities of Australia’s Antarctic Science Strategic Plan 2011/12–2020/21 and is consistent with the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area Management Plan 2006.

The future research priority is to increase the value of Macquarie Island as a globally significant monitoring site in the sub-Antarctic and Southern Ocean. Currently it is an important year-round monitoring site for the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, and ARPANSA – who undertake the role of monitoring the international ban on nuclear testing. However, it has considerable potential to be further developed as a sub-Antarctic monitoring site to measure changes both on the island itself, the atmosphere above and in the Southern Ocean. The combination of year-round presence and regular ship visits make the island an ideal site to support a coordinated monitoring program for Australia that will have global importance.

As well as its monitoring role, Macquarie Island will continue to be an important research site for conservation, environmental and climate research projects. While the island lies outside the Antarctic Treaty area, research on the island informs the broader environmental management agenda in terms of managing threatened species, climate change impacts, and terrestrial and marine protected areas. While fundamental science is a smaller component of Australia’s Antarctic Science Strategic Plan, there is scientific interest in the geological values for which the island was listed on the World Heritage register.

Future science will rely on year-round operations to support scientific monitoring operations, together with maintaining an effective network of huts to support scientific field work in other parts of the island. Basic laboratory facilities will also be needed at the research station to conduct essential, time-critical analyses, to maximize the effectiveness of the research projects. Most researchers are expected to spend the majority of their time in the field, and to conduct any detailed laboratory analyses when they return to their research institutions.

Search the science database for past and current research projects on Macquarie Island.