Aurora Australis in the Southern Ocean
Aurora Australis in the Southern Ocean (Photo: Nisha Harris)
The German Lidar (magenta beam) and the AAD Lidar (green beam) at Davis station (Photo: David Hosken)Australian Antarctic Division LidarGerman Lidar (Photo: Josef Hoffner)Inside the German Lidar containerNoctilucent clouds (ice clouds) above Davis station

A new team of Antarctic expeditioners will today follow in the footsteps of great Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson 100 years after he led Australia’s first expedition to the icy continent.

The first voyage of the centennial year, carrying nearly 90 expeditioners and scientists bound for Davis and Mawson stations, will depart Hobart on the research and resupply ship Aurora Australis this evening.

The Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Fleming, says the upcoming Antarctic season is an ambitious mix of science, policy and logistical projects along with some centenary activities.

“We have more than 90 projects planned and 500 people travelling to Antarctic by sea and air over the next 6 months,” Dr Fleming said.

“There’s a very significant commemorative voyage to Mawson’s Huts at Commonwealth Bay planned as part of the centenary of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. We hope to reach the Huts 100 years to the day after Mawson’s first visit on January 7 1912.

“To honour the first Antarctic explorers’ legacy we must focus today on ensuring we are well placed, particularly in this very changing environment, to realise the best scientific and environmental outcomes for coming generations,” Dr Fleming said.

One of the science projects being undertaken at Davis station this summer will be investigating the temperatures near the edge of space, nearly 85 kilometres above Earth, to help test current climate models.

For the first time a suite of five instruments, two ‘light detection and ranging’ (LIDAR) instruments and three atmospheric radars, worth nearly 7 million dollars, will be run simultaneously to gather information on ice-aerosol cloud formation.

The collaborative project between the Australian Antarctic Division and the Leibniz Institute for Atmospheric Physics in Germany, will measure wind and temperature climatology in the mesosphere.

Leibniz Institute LIDAR scientist, Dr Josef Höffner, said this will be the first time a range of measurements can be taken at the same time.

“In the Arctic the ice clouds are occurring more frequently and it’s thought these changes could be linked to climate change. We want to find out if the same thing is happening over the Antarctic,” Dr Höffner said.

The German Iron LIDAR was shipped to Davis station last summer and has already detected what’s thought to be the lowest atmospheric temperature ever recorded of nearly minus 170 degrees Celsius.

“We are hoping that using all the instruments this summer will determine whether those extreme temperatures we detected are a one-off occurrence or typical conditions in the region,” he said.

The findings from the Australian-German collaboration will be incorporated into international climate simulations, atmospheric modelling and satellite measurements.