SIPEX 2 Antarctic krill pumps
Mr Rob King – Australian Antarctic Division krill aquarium manager
On SIPEX II we have a challenge of trying to sample krill through sea ice. So firstly we have to find a way of getting to them. Now if we have got clear water we can drop a net in, that’s fine. But if we don’t have clear water we need to make a hole in the ice and try and pump seawater through that hole. We have two different pumps for doing that. One is a portable one that goes out on a sled, the other is this one here, which is a much heavier unit that pumps more water per minute. We can move about 400 litres per minute through this pump.
By using this we can pump water containing krill and krill larvae up to the surface where we filter them out on this screen. This separator is doing exactly the same thing that the baleen in a whale does, it’s straining out the krill and letting the water go through. The idea being that we produce a sample of krill that is alive and well so we can run them in physiological experiments.
This is the first time to my knowledge that we have tried pumping using a fish pump in the Antarctic and it’s an approach that we are exploring as experimental technique. The key to sampling in this challenging environment is a multi-pronged approach. You’ve got to take a whole bunch of things so you can get something that works.
Mapping East Antarctic sea ice
Dr Guy Williams – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
Sea ice thickness represents one of these sort of holy grail at the moment. It’s something that we have difficulty in measuring with great accuracy and with any sort of great success on large scales. So thickness is important because we want to know how much there is. We’ve got a good idea of the area from the satellites, but the satellites can’t tell us the thickness and without the thickness we won’t know the total volume or the total amount of sea ice.
Dr Clay Kunz – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
So this is an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, or AUV, and what it does is it’s a free swimming underwater robot. So it carries on board all of its power and intelligence and navigation equipment so that it is basically free swimming through the water and doing its own thing, as opposed to be being remotely controlled over a tether.
On this particular trip, since we are looking at the underside of the ice, we want to be pretty close to it. So we are driving around, so far we’ve been generally 20 metres underneath the water actually which is less distance under the ice because of course the ice sticks down into the water quite away.
The AUV has a lot of waypoints that it’s trying to get to as it is driving around underwater and the last waypoint that its set to get to is basically back where it started again, which is in open water off the stern of the ship.
Dr Guy Williams – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
It represents a leap forward in observational capability in terms of how we can measure thickness. The multi-beam sonar that we have on this AUV will provide us with a 3-D view of the underside of the sea ice. That will, together with the surface measurements that we are getting from other platforms, like the helicopter, we’ll have a full 3-D map of the entire sea ice flow.
Dr Jan Lieser – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
We are here in Antarctica to measure the thickness of the snow cover and the sea ice which is separating the atmosphere from the ocean. When we know how the thickness of the sea ice cover is changing over time we can estimate the influence of global changing climate on the overall environment down here, which includes not only the physical environment, in terms of sea ice, atmosphere and ocean, but also the biosphere.
We have this helicopter equipped with a whole heap of instruments which we call our flying toolbox. The flying toolbox consists of an aerial photography which is in this bucket down here, we have a radar, a snow thickness radar, which is mounted beneath the skids back there. We have a laser scanner and pyrometer on the front over here. And the whole thing will be combined together with an INS and GPS so that we know where we are and how we are orientated in a 3-D space. It is all driven with an electronics control unit which is in the centre here. This time around we also have a microwave radiometer from our Japanese colleagues which is installed in the boot there. So we fly about 60 nautical miles in one direction, then turn 120 degrees, fly 60 nautical miles in the next direction and then fly back to the ship.
What I like most about working in Antarctica is that so many people from so many different skills come together, work seamlessly, know what they are doing and we are all working towards one goal of gathering as much data as possible on sea ice environment down here.
Station leaders 2012–13
Allan Cooney – Casey Station Leader: If I had to describe Antarctica in one word, it would be elemental. The elements are there full time, the wind, the cold, the astonishing sky at night, the Southern Ocean, all of those things.
Bill De Bruyn – Davis Station Leader (summer): If I had to describe Antarctica in one or two words, it would be the future. I see things happening in Antarctica that I think should spill across into the rest of the world. I see collaborative nations working together to achieve common aims and I would really like to see that spread across the rest of the world.
Jason Ahrens – Davis Station Leader (winter): If I had to describe Antarctica in one or two words, it’s near impossible. I just can’t do it. I have to sit down and have long conversations about all my experiences and what Antarctica means to me. It’s just a great great place.
Mark Gasson – Macquarie Island Station Leader: If I had to describe Macquarie Island in one word I would say it’s unique. There’s nowhere else like it on earth. It’s been formed by two plates colliding under the ocean which has pushed it up above the ocean surface, it’s absolutely amazing.
Allan Cooney – Casey Station Leader
My name is Allan Cooney, I’ll be the station leader at Casey for 2013. I am a Queenslander, home for me is Toowoomba, but I have spent the last 8 years in the Northern Territory.
I was a professional farmer until I was 40. The last 10 years I have been a senior manager, CEO, executive director. I applied for the position for the Antarctic Division because of a friend of mine who did a tour down here as a Doctor, he inspired me with an interest to go to Antarctica.
There's the usual projects - there’s a very busy aviation program running, there’s the usual operational things about maintaining and refreshing the facilities at the station. There's about 17 science projects running, from things like atmospheric research to investigation of the moss communities, things like remediation of our human footprint in Antarctica. So there’s whole suite of things.
I expect it will be interesting and challenging and all of those things as well, but what a unique experience. One of the rare places in the world that is untouched really by human hands.
Bill De Bruyn – Davis Station Leader (summer)
My name is Bill De Bruyn, I’m going to be the Davis station leader for this year and I range from Melbourne, Victoria.
My background? I am a policeman by trade, with over 40 years experience now, skills not unlike that which required for a station leader. I have been down before - I did 14 months in 2008-2009, again as the station leader at Davis, so it will be a bit like going home.
This year Davis has got a huge program. There’s a lot of science, deep field science where we are establishing equipment to monitor climate change. We’ve got marine science happening, so we’ll have the boats out in between the icebergs. We’ve got a lot of on station stuff, marine science, we’ll be looking at penguins and petrels and albatrosses. It’s a huge scientific program in a very short period.
What attracts me to the Antarctic? Predominantly it’s the people, secondly it’s the science and third it’s the environment, although I could re-juggle those three quite easily. But the three of them make a mixture that gets into your system.
Jason Ahrens – Davis Station Leader (winter)
I am Jason Ahrens and I am going to Davis station for the winter. I’ve recently relocated from North East Victoria to Tasmania, where in Victoria I spent most of my time in the building and construction industry.
Having spent 2007 at Davis as the Deputy Station Leader and the Building Services Supervisor I got to see exactly how things operate and thought this would be a great opportunity for me to have a go. As I am only in Davis for the winter, our science programs are limited to sea ice measurements and some penguin and seal counts which are carried out every year.
This winter is a long winter with the shortened summer season, so we are going to be remote and isolated for around 10 months. So that in itself will be a challenge for everyone on station.
The environment in Antarctica and the lifestyle, the people are absolutely fantastic, they are a great diverse group of people. And there’s quite a few challenges while we are down in Antarctica - the remoteness, the weather, the environment and all those things that go with it and I just find it rewarding and enjoy it.
Mark Gasson – Macquarie Island Station Leader
My name is Mark Gasson, I am originally from London in the UK and now I live in Sydney. I’m going to Macquarie Island this season.
My background is quite diverse. I used to be a philosophy lecturer in the UK and then I became a blacksmith. I’ve also worked for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for 10 years, as a rescue boat skipper, and then rescue boat captain for NSW marine rescue. I am now the CEO of the Blue Rock Foundation, a charity that provides assistance for disadvantaged young people.
We've got a number of interesting projects taking place over the next year, the biggest of which is the continuation of the MIPEP project (the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project), which is basically removal of vertebrate pests that were introduced in the late 19th century by sealers. The removal of the rabbits has meant that the vegetation is growing back at an increased rate so there will be scientists looking at how that’s impacting on the environment. There will be scientists gathering ecotoxilogical data, as well as some research scientists looking at albatross and petrel.
Macquarie Island is absolutely beautiful - it’s an outcrop of rock in the middle of the Southern Ocean, it’s very very green, covered in an incredible array of wildlife and birds, seals , penguins, petrels, albatrosses. It’s absolutely stunning.
Tracking blue whales
Marine mammal acoustician Dr Brian Miller
Antarctic blue whales were hunted to the brink of extinction during industrial whaling. There are very few whales in a large ocean, so in order to continue to monitor the recovery of Antarctic blue whales we need to develop new ways of finding whales over larger ranges. The reason that we use acoustic tracking is that whale sounds can be heard over ranges much further than whales can be seen.
We conducted two voyages this year - a voyage in January and a voyage in March. We are looking and listening for pygmy blue whales and we are developing and testing new methods for real time acoustic tracking.
We had a total of 20 days of good weather across the two voyages and during that time we covered a 100 kilometre area along the Bonney Upwelling. There’s a strong upwelling which is an oceanographic process that brings nutrient-rich foods to the surface. There’s lots of food for whales there at that time of year and it’s a perfect place to test out new tracking methods because we know the whales are going to be there.
We used directional sonobuoys to locate the whales in real time. So the sonobuoy has a hydrophone which is deployed to a depth of either 30, 100 or 300 metres. The hydrophone transmits sound back to the ship via a VHF radio link. So we receive the sound on the ship and then we are able to process the sound in order to get direction to the whales. If we deploy more than one sonobuoy, then we can use the two bearings to the whales to triangulate their precise position, in order to photograph and take genetic samples of the whales.
We had over 100 sightings of whales and we photographed 49 different individual whales - 25 in January, 25 in March and one whale was sighted both in January and March. We were very pleased with the result. The real time tracking worked incredibly well and we are now ready to take those methods down to the Southern Ocean in order to track Antarctic blue whales.
Launch of the Antarctic Blue Whales Project
Environment Minister – Tony Burke
A couple of years ago at the International Whaling Commission, Australia, and I was Australia’s Environment Minister, launched the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. It was there to make sure that we started turning the corner, not merely on conservation, but on the science that could be drawn from conservation. It was also an opportunity for the conservation nations of the world to show up in lights that if you want to conduct scientific research into whales you don’t need to harpoon them, chop them up and sell them for food. If you want to conduct scientific research on whales then you can do it through ordinary scientific methods. The flagship part of that work was to launch the first of the programs that Australia would lead under the Southern Ocean Research Partnership would be research into the Blue whale.
The blue whale wins every test that you could possibly put on whether or not a species is going to be iconic. In terms of its total numbers and the threat that it has been under it has been right to the brink. During the whaling years blue whales generally in the order of about 340,000 were slaughtered. The Antarctic blue whale in the Southern Ocean in the order of about 200,000 of them were lost during those whaling years up until the mid 80’s. It was believed that their numbers got right down to probably in the order of about 500 individual blue whales.
As an iconic species, we are talking about the largest mammal, the largest animal in the history of the planet. There was never a dinosaur as large as the blue whale. But then when there’s only 500 in a place as large as the ocean, how do you actually do the most basic scientific research like finding them, counting the numbers. The work that will begin, and you’ve got 11 nations, 10 of the other conservation nations involved in this work, over the next summer period is quite ground breaking in what’s now possible in finding and counting blue whales.
Australian Antarctic Division Chief Scientist – Dr Nick Gales
The scale of removal was immense and it is probably one of the most spectacular examples of badly managed human behavior in extracting resources. What we know now is very little. We have had since 1979, the IWC conducted about 25 years of sighting surveys around the Southern Ocean around Antarctica mainly looking for minke whales but they did encounter blue whales. The dots on that map on the left show where those blue whales were encountered, but the numbers are really small and our level of knowledge on exactly how many of them there are remains really poor. So that gives rise to the Antarctic Blue Whale Project, which is, as the Minister said, the flagship project Southern Ocean Research Partnership in the IWC.
It’s really ambitious and we couldn’t do this on our own and we couldn’t do it without the advancements we have been able to make in molecular sciences, in survey sciences with statistics with micro-processors and tagging techniques to track these animals. This project represents bringing all of these non-lethal sophisticated scientific tools together to address these questions.
Then with the help of all these other nations come up with an abundance estimate of how many whales there are, understand the genetics around how these populations around Antarctic interact and then we can start learning about how they feed, where they feed. And their vulnerabilities to changes in the Southern Ocean and their vulnerabilities to practices conducted by humans. So it’s really important work.
Head of Australian Marine Mammals Centre – Dr Mike Double
I just wanted to show you this piece of kit here. This is a sonar buoy. IT is originally developed by navy to track submarines, to locate and track submarines. This part at the bottom here is a hydrophone and then there’s up to 300 metres of cable within here and this part floats at the surface and transmits a VHF signal back to the vessel. So you deploy this, the hydrophone drops close to the bottom of the ocean and then it will listen to the whales, it will eavesdrop on the whales.
So we had to trial these before we could deploy them in the Antarctic. And we did that on two voyages in the Bonny Upwelling of Bass Strait in January and March this year. So we spent 20 days at sea and we heard some 7000 blue whale calls and we did a total of 32 active follows, where we could repeatedly put out sonar buoys and follow these whales. Of the 32 follows that we did, we actually found whales 29 times, which is over a 90% success rate. Often when you find one whale, you find other whales, so although we did 29 successful follows we actually saw 49 different whales.
So given the success of these voyages it really does stand us in good stead for the forthcoming Antarctic Blue Whale voyage.