From the Director

Australian Antarctic Division Director, Dr Nick Gales.
Australian Antarctic Division Director, Dr Nick Gales. (Photo: Glenn Jacobson)

In April the Australian Antarctic community celebrated the launch of the Australian Government’s Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan.

This exciting and timely Strategy sets out the vision for Australia’s future engagement in Antarctica, while the accompanying Action Plan details the steps the Australian Government will take to achieve it. Together, the Strategy and Action Plan will ensure Australia continues to build its leadership role in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Strategy and Action Plan were informed by an independent report and recommendations commissioned by the government, and prepared by former Australian Antarctic Division Director Dr Tony Press, released in late 2014. As leader of Australia’s Antarctic program, the Antarctic Division will coordinate the delivery of the Action Plan. Among our commitments will be further establishing Australia’s position of science leadership in Antarctica, including by:

  • Delivering a new icebreaker ship during 2019–20, with enhanced marine science and logistics capability, and integrating its operation with other national shipping assets.
  • Establishing an overland traverse capability with associated ice core drilling and mobile station infrastructure and research support. This will support an internationally collaborative project to retrieve a one million year ice-core climate record.
  • Developing a full business case for establishing year-round aviation access to Antarctica.
  • Improving our krill research infrastructure in Hobart, to conduct research that will contribute to the sustainable management of the Southern Ocean krill fishery
  • Establishing collaborative relationships with key international partners, to share capabilities and facilitate more efficient science, operations and policy outcomes in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Division is also continuing its discussions with Defence with a view to establishing a regular program of flights to Antarctica using the Royal Australian Air Force C17-A aircraft. Last season we conducted five highly successful proof of concept flights, moving more than 109 tonnes of machinery and cargo into and out of Antarctica. This efficient and additional means of moving heavy assets will improve options for supporting science projects, as well as our regular resupply activities.

Collaboration has always been an important part of working in Antarctica and will increasingly be so as nations active in Antarctica seek to maximise the efficiency of their science, operations and policy outcomes. In recent meetings Australia has agreed on shared priorities with both China and the United Kingdom, including enhanced scientific cooperation, advancing policy discussions for environment protection, and the use of Hobart as an Antarctic Gateway.

This season the spirit of cooperation was again apparent when Japan, the United States, China and France came to our assistance during the grounding of the Aurora Australis at Mawson research station. Despite this setback, our Antarctic neighbours’ support enabled us to successfully complete all our science and resupply priorities. This included conducting and supporting a major marine science voyage to the Kerguelen Plateau. The comprehensive sampling conducted across the Kerguelen Plateau region will enable the development of an observing program that will help measure the current status of the East Antarctic ecosystem, and future trends as a result of climate change.

Overseeing our Antarctic science program is our new Chief Scientist, Dr Gwen Fenton. Since 2003 Gwen has managed the science planning and coordination of all projects within the Australian Antarctic Science Program. Her depth of knowledge of Antarctic science, and her background in marine research, are great assets to the program, and I warmly welcome her to the role.

Last, but not least, we were reminded this year that operating in Antarctica is not without risk, with the sad loss of Helicopter Resources pilot David Wood, who was working in support of our program at Davis research station. While safety is our number one priority in all that we do in Antarctica, this tragic event is a reminder that we must all remain vigilant to the risks we face and continue to strive for better and safer ways of doing our work. David will be remembered during our mid-winter ceremony.

Dr Nick Gales
Director, Australian Antarctic Division