Scientists on the ground of proposed runway site

Photo of men and women standing in front of a green building
The Davis Aerodrome Project Field Team at Davis research station (Photo: Australian Antarctic Division)
two men walking on sea ice Man standing on a rock surface

A team of scientists and technical experts has arrived at Australia’s Davis research station, kicking off a busy summer season of ecological and geotechnical surveys at a new proposed runway site.

The team of 15, made up of seven environmental scientists, four Australian Defence Force surveyors, two geotechnical consultants, a field coordinator and a plant operator will spend the summer at Davis station.

The team will be improving the Division’s understanding of the proposed Vestfold Hills site, and the potential impact construction and use of a paved runway may have on the environment.

Spatial ecologist Dr Aleks Terauds is overseeing the ecological surveys being undertaken by Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) scientists on the ground.

“We’re aiming to get baseline information in the operational area of interest on seals, seabirds, vegetation, seabed communities, soil and lake communities, noise levels, and air and water quality,” Dr Terauds said.

“We also want to get contextual information; so whether species are unique to the operational area, or if they occur in the wider Vestfold Hills area or throughout Antarctica.”

Scientists will be using a range of high tech equipment, including satellite trackers, endoscope and remote cameras to monitor seabirds, and a bespoke remotely operated vehicle to explore beneath the sea ice.

The data will feed into the Project’s environmental assessments under the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act (1980) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) (EPBC Act).

The AAD is preparing to submit a Referral under the EPBC Act in the coming months, which will be made available for public comment by the Regulator.

Lake and ground surveys will also take place at the proposed aerodrome site and surrounding environment.

Davis Aerodrome Project Field Coordinator, Aron Gavin, said the team also has a busy geotechnical and surveying schedule planned.

“The proposed site consists mostly of a very hard granitic bedrock, but the potential runway alignment does run across two narrow sediment-filled valleys,” Mr Gavin said.

“So we’re trying to understand the ground and sub-surface conditions around these areas to work out how best to stabilise them, and the effect of the proposed runway.”

The Davis wintering team also spent significant time supporting the project, installing and servicing instruments, downloading data, taking samples and field measurements and making wildlife observations.   

Most of the Davis Aerodrome Project Field Team will be at Davis station until the icebreaker Aurora Australis returns for the voyage back to Hobart in March 2020.