Trans-Tasman meeting of Antarctic minds

Professor Will Steffen spoke about the challenges of climate change to science and policy.
Professor Will Steffen spoke about the challenges of climate change to science and policy. (Photo: Stephenie Cahalan)
Professor Tim Naish in front of the media after his keynote presentation.

Some of the best minds in Antarctic research in Australia and New Zealand met at the ‘Strategic Science in Antarctica’ conference in Hobart in June.

The inaugural joint conference was a collaboration between the Australian Antarctic Division and Antarctica New Zealand, who have a shared vision for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean of ‘Valued, Protected and Understood’.

Over five days 300 delegates, including 48 from New Zealand and several researchers from the USA and UK, exchanged ideas and information on topics relating to the Antarctic ice sheet, marine and terrestrial ecosystems and human impacts in Antarctica. Fourteen workshops were also held on topics including how science informs policy, specific research program ideas, science communication, and leadership in science.

A major aim of the conference was to showcase the quality of science within the Australian and New Zealand Antarctic programs, and to enable scientists and policy-makers to discuss priorities and opportunities for delivering strategic science into the future. In this respect it was a great success.

More than 250 abstracts were submitted prior to the conference, and after much discussion the conference committee decided on a program format of plenary presentations and concurrent sessions. The three-day program included eight invited keynote speakers, 23 plenary presentations, 71 concurrent presentations and 90 posters; as well as presentations on the Australian and New Zealand science programs. The conference was followed by two days of workshops, attended by 278 people.

On the opening day of the conference, delegates were welcomed by Australian Antarctic Division Director Tony Fleming and Antarctica New Zealand (former) Chief Executive Lou Sanson, followed by a pre-recorded welcome video from (former) Federal Environment Minister, the Hon. Tony Burke.

The conference began with keynote presentations from Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University and Professor Tim Naish of Victoria University of Wellington. This session concluded with one of the most talked about moments of the conference. As Acting Chief Scientist Dr Martin Riddle summed up the talks, he commented on the need to reduce our carbon footprint. As if planned for dramatic effect the lights went out… and stayed out. All power to the conference venue was lost.

While conference organisers scurried around trying to find out where the problem was and when it would be resolved, delegates enjoyed an extended morning tea, taking the opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances and discuss the posters on display with presenters. Power was restored after an hour and the conference continued with a slight change to schedule for the day.

The success of any conference will ultimately be determined by the quality of the presentations. The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, with many noting the exceptional quality of the presentations, particularly those of the keynote speakers, as a real highlight.

The conference also successfully showcased the outstanding quality of Australian and New Zealand Antarctic science, and highlighted the strength and resilience of the relationships the Australian Antarctic Division has with key partners in delivering that science.

The conference received generous support from Tasmania’s marine and Antarctic science organisations including from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Antarctic Tasmania, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, and the Tasmanian Polar Network. The quality and number of presenters affiliated with these partners justifies Hobart’s reputation as a centre of excellence in Antarctic and Southern Ocean science and Australia’s Antarctic Gateway.

The conference program, including presentation, poster and workshop abstracts, is available on the conference website.

Andy Sharman
Science Conference Program Manager, Australian Antarctic Division