Australian polar research at the close of the International Polar Year
26 February 2009
Australian Antarctic scientists joined with polar researchers around the world to celebrate two years of intensive, internationally coordinated scientific research for the International Polar Year (2007-2009), which officially ended on 25 February 2009. A celebration was held in Geneva, Switzerland, coinciding with the release of the report, The State of Polar Research. This report provides an overview of the collective impact of international and interdisciplinary research conducted during the IPY, and the future of polar research.
Many of the projects gathered information which has been, or aims to be, stored in broadly accessible databases. These data are a key IPY legacy and will be invaluable for future research and, in some cases, will provide benchmark information against which environmental change can be observed. A number of observational systems and associated infrastructure were also established, and equipment installed, which will enable continued and long-term research. Some research, such as that conducted during CAML and the Aliens in Antarctica project, has already instigated practical changes that will assist future conservation of the Antarctic environment.
Photo: Esmee Van Wijk
Altogether, the success of the Australian projects in delivering on the four major goals of the IPY – advances in polar knowledge; a legacy of infrastructure and observational systems; inspiring a new generation of scientists; and public outreach – will ensure the scale, success and broad understanding of Antarctic research, made possibly by the IPY, will continue.
For further information about Australia's IPY projects contact email@example.com
CENSUS OF ANTARCTIC MARINE LIFE
The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) and its polar counterpart, Arctic Ocean Diversity, have pioneered new understandings of the evolution and diversity of life.
Led by the Australian Antarctic Division, CAML coordinated 18 major research voyages to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean during the IPY. Australian scientists participated in three CAML voyages focusing on waters adjacent to East Antarctica – known as the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census (CEAMARC). These voyages, aboard Japan's Umitaka Maru, France's L'Astrolabe and Australia's Aurora Australis, studied sea-bed communities and the deep pelagic (open ocean) zone of the region adjacent to Terre Adélie and George V Land.
The recent collapse of several Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves has exposed seafloor communities to light for the first time. An expedition to the disintegrating Larsen A and B ice shelves showed newly exposed areas of the continental shelf attracting life from deeper waters on the slope, including sponges that rapidly colonise the sea floor disturbed by ice scour.
During the voyages, correspondents and photographers aboard research vessels sent words and pictures around the world via blogs and online and print articles, many of which can be accessed through the CAML website, Equipe Cousteau , and the educational and scientific websites of the International Polar Foundation: EducaPoles and SciencePoles . In February 2009 CAML received an award for 'overall exellence' from its parent program, the Census of Marine Life, for its approach to and success in science, education and outreach activities, and cooperation and collaboration.
A major legacy of CAML is the 'SCAR-MarBIN' (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research Marine Biodiversity Network) dataportal, which contains data collected on some 14 000 species. This database of comprehensive information on Antarctic marine biodiversity will provide a baseline against which future change in marine communities around Antarctica can be assessed.
Photo: Russ Hopcroft
CAML is made possible by support from a broad range of private sources and government agencies in nations including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and South Africa.
The Census of Marine Life program will end in 2010. Related initiatives including barcoding and the Encyclopaedia of Life may continue beyond 2010 if funding is available. The international network of researchers in marine biodiversity will continue under the auspices of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.
CLIMATE OF ANTARCTICA AND THE SOUTHERN OCEAN
The Climate of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (CASO) program, led by the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, is working towards obtaining a circumpolar snapshot of the physical environment of the Southern Ocean. This snapshot will enhance scientists' understanding of the role of the Southern Ocean in past, present and future climate, and improve climate predictions from models that incorporate a better understanding of southern polar processes.
CASO consists of 25 individual projects involving scientists from 18 nations. It links with other IPY projects, including studies of ocean circulation and ocean-ice interaction near the Antarctic margin, biogeochemistry, meteorology, ecology and paleoclimate.
The Australian CASO team deployed 30 ocean profiling ('Argo') floats throughout the Australian sector of the Southern Ocean, to measure temperature and salinity in the upper 2000 m of the ocean. These floats contribute to a network of over 3000 existing floats deployed throughout the world's oceans. Small oceanographic sensors were also deployed on seals, to take the first measurements of ocean conditions around Antarctica during winter. Observations from these, and other instruments, will be integrated with a range of modelling studies.
Australian scientists also conducted an oceanographic transect across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, to understand the current's interaction with the Southern Ocean overturning circulation, which regulates the heat and carbon stored by the ocean. Using instruments lowered from the ship, scientists measured temperature, salinity and oxygen concentrations, while water samples were collected from various depths and analysed for nutrients, carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, phytoplankton pigments and oxygen isotopes. Acoustic instruments were used to measure currents, and moorings were deployed to collect year-long records of water velocity and properties.
Preliminary work during a survey of Antarctic continental shelf waters, suggests that the ocean circulation patterns influence the distribution of benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms. The oceanographic observations also showed that dense Antarctic Bottom Water was escaping from the continental shelf and sinking to the deep sea in this area, even during the summer.
A number of students participated on the CASO voyages and many will use the results in their research projects. The data collected during the CASO voyages has been archived in the international hydrographic data archive – CLIVAR & Carbon Hydrographic Data Office.
CASO scientists have also been active in schools and other public outreach activities, and a number of blogs and ship 'sitreps' describing the research were posted.
SEA ICE PHYSICS AND ECOSYSTEM EXPERIMENT
The Sea Ice Physics and Ecosystems eXperiment (SIPEX), involving 45 scientists from 12 countries, has improved scientists' understanding of the relationship between sea ice physical processes and the biological environment within and under the ice. The program, led by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, was conducted on a 55-day multi-disciplinary sea ice voyage, at a time of maximum sea ice extent in East Antarctica. During this time scientists took a series of measurements at 15 'ice stations', to characterise the sea ice environment.
SIPEX was conducted as part of a larger IPY project titled 'Antarctic Sea Ice in the IPY' which drew together research programs across many countries. The US-led Sea Ice Mass Balance in the Antarctic (SIMBA) program, for example, aimed to characterise the sea ice environment of West Antarctica. It investigated sea ice thickness, extent and physical and biogeochemical properties, the interaction between the ocean, atmosphere and ice, and the biology of the sea ice, among other things. Together, SIPEX and SIMBA formed a major, simultaneous study of much of the Antarctic sea ice zone.
Photo: Tony Worby
To understand linked physical-biological sea ice processes, detailed measurements were made of ice properties, including ice structure, inorganic nutrient concentrations, trace elements (such as iron), and biological parameters such as ice algal biomass and species composition. In addition, Antarctic krill was sampled using trawls and camera systems lowered under the ice.
The combined data show a strong increase in biological production (such as algal growth and krill growth and reproduction) during the latter half of the research voyage, indicating that the voyage captured the onset of biological activity during the winter-spring transition.
Photo: Patti Virtue
SIPEX involved scientists from many different countries, a number of which now have improved research links and capabilities with Australia. This is particularly true of the Japanese program with which Australia is now engaging in closer ties on climate change research, and with European collaborators on calibration and validation efforts on the new CryoSat-2 altimetry satellite, which will be launched in November 2009. The voyage also resulted in a new collaboration with researchers from the Netherlands (IMARES. Wageningen University Research) and strengthened existing collaboration with German and Norwegian colleagues.
Photo: Klaus Meiners
Twelve PhD students participated in SIPEX, working with other scientists and students in related disciplines. The Teachers Experiencing Antarctica program enabled two teachers to participate in the SIPEX program, and provided a direct link between scientific research in Antarctica and classrooms in Australia and around the world. A website, which was updated daily from the ship, enabled students and the general public to follow the progress of the voyage and to learn about Antarctic research first hand.
A workshop will be held in Italy in March 2009, at which the results of the SIPEX and SIMBA programs and all other Antarctic sea ice research during IPY, will be presented. A special volume of Deep Sea Research II on 'Antarctic Sea Ice in IPY' will be published and more than 30 preliminary paper titles have been submitted for consideration. Many of the programs conducted during SIPEX will continue over the next few years, and will contribute to the development of new field programs in the future.
SOLAR LINKAGES TO ATMOSPHERIC PROCESSES
Photo: Chris Wilson
Thunderstorms and lightning strikes drive electricity around the world and form part of a global 'atmospheric electric circuit' that flows between the ground and the lower reaches of the ionosphere – about 80km up. The circuit is completed when the current trickles back to Earth, in regions remote from thunderstorm activity, such as Antarctica. The flow of current around the world is modulated by cosmic rays, which control atmospheric conductivity; while cosmic rays are in turn modulated by the solar wind (charged particles from the sun).
Meteorological and solar variability influences on the atmospheric circuit are well established. The unanswered question is whether the electric circuit actively links solar variability and weather, or if it responds passively to both meteorological and solar variations. Understanding this interaction is important because changes in the global electric circuit, caused by solar variability, could alter the conditions under which thunderstorms develop.
The project scientists recently published evidence supporting a day-to-day meteorological variation linked to solar activity, and showing that the process operates via the atmospheric electric circuit – i.e. there is an active link between the electric circuit, solar variability and weather. This supports a new link between solar variability and climate in addition to solar irradiance and UV ozone modulation described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.
Photo: Gary Burns
A model of the global electric circuit has been developed by collaborators at the University of Texas, Dallas, incorporating variations in cosmic rays, energetic particles, natural radioactivity and aerosols. Outputs from the model will be compared with measured atmospheric circuit responses to these variations, to refine understanding of the processes involved.
The Vostok and Concordia data sets will ultimately reside in the Australian Antarctic Data Centre and the Global Circuit Project of the University of Houston. Data from the western Antarctica deployments will be available via the British Antarctic Survey Data Access and Browsing System (DABS).
As a number of instruments were deployed late in the formal IPY program, scientists will continue collecting data over at least the next two years to address their research goals. Updates on the project are available through the SLAP website.
ALIENS IN ANTARCTICA
Photo: Dana Bergstrom
Teams examined the type and number of 'propagules' (seeds, spores and eggs) that could be unintentionally imported into Antarctica on personal clothing and equipment, fresh food, cargo, and more than 40 ships and aircraft. Crews and passengers were also surveyed to ascertain the extent of travel that people had done before heading south, to identify the geographic range from which invasive species could be drawn. For example, seed and plant material were found on an individual who had visited alpine New Zealand.
The Australian team examined over 2000 items of fresh fruit and vegetables destined for Australian Antarctic stations. Eighty-nine per cent of items were clean, but the remaining items were either infected with fungi (9%) or had evidence of the presence of insects (2%). Blue moulds were commonly associated with fruit and vegetables that had been in cold storage for many months prior to the beginning of the Antarctic field season. As a result, scientists recommended that such produce should not be accepted within the Australian Antarctic program in future.
The Australian team also found that while most cargo was clean, live collembola mites and seeds were found in one crate, live insects were found on the C212 aircraft, and some people carried large numbers of propagules in their gear and clothing.
Photo: Mat Oakes
For further information about any of these IPY projects contact firstname.lastname@example.org