From the Director

Dr Nick Gales in front of a sign at Casey research station.
Dr Nick Gales at Casey research station. (Photo: Chris Crerar)

Since our last magazine, exciting progress has been made on a number of critical projects that will carry the Australian Antarctic Program into the future.

Among these has been progress on building our new scientific icebreaker, RSV Nuyina. As this magazine goes to press, almost all of the 10 000 tonnes of steel that will comprise the hull and superstructure have been cut and welded into blocks (page 4). The hull will soon be moved from the dry dock into a wet dock, for consolidation of the superstructure and fit out.

When complete, the RSV Nuyina could be considered the triathlete of Antarctic vessels – a scientific research platform, icebreaker and resupply ship in one. Just like any multidisciplinary specialist, the new ship will be an adaptable all-rounder, able to undertake each role at the highest level. Achieving this feat of design and engineering has required significant expertise and collaboration from within and outside the Antarctic Division (page 2).

This season has also seen the first 360 degree virtual tour of Macquarie Island research station completed, to assist the station modernisation project and provide an historical record of the current buildings.

Specifically, the virtual tour will help the future Managing Contractor of the station’s redevelopment to prepare for the design and construction phase of the project, and decommissioning of the current station buildings, given limited access to the remote and challenging site.

These types of digital technologies will provide opportunities for new and flexible ways of doing business. For example, virtual tours of our Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations could assist in the recruitment, education and training of future Antarctic expeditioners.

Virtual technology also provides an exciting way to raise public awareness of our research and other activities in Antarctica. This season, Davis research station hosted the first virtual reality (VR) documentary about Antarctica. The Antarctica Experience will take viewers on an immersive journey into the life of a small Antarctic community, the scientific research being undertaken, and the stunning landscapes and wildlife. It will premier at the Western Australian Museum, before international distribution, and dissemination on major hardware platforms such as the Apple store, Samsung and Oculus. Visitors to the Australian Antarctic Division will also be able to view the film on VR headsets.

Among the science featured in the VR documentary is our krill research. The Australian Antarctic Division is fortunate to have one of the best facilities in the world to study krill. Largely as a result, the Antarctic Division has led globally important discoveries on krill biology, ecology, fisheries, and adaptation to environmental change, as the feature reveals.

Our understanding of the Totten Glacier – one of the fastest flowing and largest glaciers in Antarctica – has also significantly advanced. This season scientists found that more of the Totten Glacier is floating on the ocean than previously thought. As they continue to map out the boundary where the bedrock below the ice sheet meets the ocean, the ability to accurately model and monitor the glacier’s movement will improve, allowing them to assess the potential impact on sea level under various future scenarios.

While we are looking to the future, we have also taken time to reflect on the past with the celebration of some significant anniversaries.

Just over 70 years ago, in November 1947, the maiden expedition of Australia’s Antarctic Program (then the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions – ANARE) established the first of Australia’s research stations in the southern polar region. The 1947 Heard Island expedition laid claim to Heard Island and McDonald Islands and established a research station at Atlas Cove. In March 1948, Macquarie Island research station was opened, with a team of 14 expeditioners staying for winter.

I was privileged to speak at the 70th Heard Island Commemoration Luncheon in December last year, where I enjoyed meeting some of the 91 hardy souls who wintered during the nine years of the station’s operation. As a young biologist, I was lucky to spend a memorable five months on the island over three summers between 1985 and 2003. The ANARE Club did a wonderful job organising and hosting the event and I’m looking forward to their next event, the Macquarie Island 70th Anniversary celebration, on 6 August this year.

As the stories in this issue show, expeditioners in today’s modern Antarctic Program continue the bold steps of those early pioneers with a similar foresight, determination and adventurous spirit.

Dr Nick Gales
Australian Antarctic Division