Antarctic video gallery
Winter sea ice extent
Change in operations on Macquarie Island
Nick Gales: So the Australian Antarctic Division is going to change the way that we operate at Macquarie Island. We're going to move from a year-round presence on the island where we occupy a large station to one where we'll use field huts based around the station during the summer period.
In the Australian Antarctic strategy that was released earlier this year the strategy identified the need for us to deal with very aging infrastructure on Macquarie Island, and a recent engineering review of the island showed us that a very large investment was needed to keep it safe for the people there and also safe for the environment. So we made the decision to continue science there through the summer using the stations, and this comes on the back end of a very successful pest eradication program on Macquarie Island.
So in terms of timing it's a good time to make a decision to lighten our footprint on the island, continue the important science but ensure that we don't reintroduce pests down there and allow the island now to return much more to its wilderness stage.
Journalist: A lot of people think that potentially this is a direct funding result, but the statement seems to mention obviously things about the human impact. What is the major reason for the changing the role down there?
Nick Gales: Well like all major and difficult decisions as there's a there's a mix of things. Budget's of course a part of it. We, like all areas operating, we don't operate in an unconstrained budget environment. So budgets do come into play I mean certainly looking at our capital investment budget the priorities are in other stations at the moment. But the decision is broader than just budgets it really does look at lightning a footprint there, recognizing that actually by using field huts and visits to the island on ships we can accomplish pretty much all of the high-priority research we're doing down there and really clean up. The station's been operating since 1948. It's very old. It needs pretty much to be completely removed and then in the future we can look at models if we need to that go beyond the six field huts. But the model we're moving into will be field based and summertime only.
Journalist: What does this mean for the long-term scientific program on the island, obviously that dates back even further than the AAD's presence? Does that mean that we're going to miss out now on the rich environmental and weather data that we've been reaping there for years?
Nick Gales: So I think most of the priority science that happens on Macquarie Island has happened for a very long time can continue. We're able to support that. There are some elements of long-term monitoring, some of the weather observations conducted by the Bureau, some of the other long-term monitoring projects that require people on the island all year round will be impacted and so we're now going to work closely with the agencies affected. We're going to as much as we possibly can mitigate the impact of the change and work with them to try and automate the systems that can remain on the island during the winter and if that's not possible look at alternatives and look at summer measurements only. So there will be impacts, of course there are in closing down a year-round station but we believe that most of the important data can be can be managed to those impacts can be mitigated.
Journalist: Australia only has four year round stations in Antarctica. How hard is it to make a decision to close one of those?
Nick Gales: Well it's a significant decision. The station at Macquarie Island is outside of the Antarctic Treaty area and out side of the core Antarctic area so it's not a statement in terms of Australia's engagement in the overall Antarctic strategy, in the Antarctic Program, and Macquarie Island is part of Tasmania. It's administered and managed by the Tasmanian government so it's been very much a joint Commonwealth and State initiative for a very long time. Our three continental stations down in Antarctica: Mawson, Davis and Casey will remain operating as usual and in fact this will enable us to focus their resources even more on the sort of some of the higher priority Antarctic and Southern Ocean strategic work.
Journalist: Does the division have plans to open another year round station on the antarctic continent?
Nick Gales: No, we have no plans to open a year-round station in Antarctica, an additional one. In the Antarctic strategy we did announce that we'll be looking very much more at inland and deep ice work and mobile inland research stations. So extending our research footprint deeper into the ice so if you like, a portable research station that can move right over the ice and the announcement also earlier this year of a new ice breaker which is an order of magnitude sort of step for us in terms of research capability represents very much a mobile ocean-based research station which we can deploy throughout the southern ocean and along the antarctic coastline.
Journalist: How will jobs be impacted from the decision?
Nick Gales: There's obviously the direct people who were about to go south who we'll be working with and we've spoken to and we'll generally be redeploying those across their program so the overall element of our number of people we employ to manage our program shouldn't change it all in the short term now in the planning towards next winter and they'll be some redeployments and maybe some contract deferments but it shouldn't impact staff overall.
Journalist: Just to be clear, you hadn't recruited people for the coming season?
Nick Gales: Where are we now, we're in September. Our first voyage departs next month and we're well into planning for the voyage, for the summer season so we'd started the process of considering all of our station's winter activities and this coming summer activities and we're now making some adjustments on the basis of this decision.
Journalist: Does it not point to this being a fairly sudden decision if you were already recruiting people for next winter?
Nick Gales: It's a decision that we've been considering for some time. It's a decision that at any point in time because our planning more or less runs all year round so at whatever point the actual decision was made there would always be a need to be engaging staff who are either on the Island now or were planning on heading down so almost at any point in time it would have required this kind of work.
We'll work really closely with the Tasmanian government, with the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency in particular to work towards how we clean up the station over the next number of years. We'll need to make good so remove the current buildings. There may be some buildings of heritage value we'll work through that issue and also to remediate any damage that's been done in the environment. So we'll work closely to make good the current station site. It's not a site we could have stayed in for much longer. We get inundation from the ocean there in storm events so in any eventualities it required cleaning up and we'll focus our attention on keeping the the field huts operational and able to support research activities.
Journalist: How many field huts do you have there?
Nick Gales: We've got six field huts around the island spread right around the length of the island and again, we'll review the condition of each of the field huts, work out whether we need more or less to support the kind of research we're doing but ensure we've got enough to support our sort of research priorities on the island.
Journalist: And how does this impact on the ability of the Bureau of Meteorology and the Parks Service to deploy staff to Macquarie Island?
Nick Gales: Obviously you know the Australian Antarctic Division has run the station and so other agencies such as the Bureau and the Tasmanian Parks Service have been able to leverage off the existing support we're offering. That support will now change to a summer-only pattern that will affect those those agencies. We'll work with them to minimize the impact on their programs. Mostly the parks responsibilities are around managing tourism visits, which are by ship and so they'll be able to deploy their officers on those ships and manage that in a way that's in some ways easier than having island-based people all the time and with the Bureau again we will be engaging and working closely with the Bureau to ensure that we can support as much of the work as we can while only having a summer presence on the island.
Journalist: Have you spoken to the federal Environment Minister and has he offered any response?
Nick Gales: We certainly provided a brief to our Minister on the decision and and we've also made extensive sort of outreach to all of the stakeholders and spoken to all of the key affected agencies and people to inform them of the decision process and to inform them of our willingness and desire to work closely with them to to minimise any any negative outcomes and really to maximize on the positives because there are positives in terms of the environmental outcomes and the opportunities to work just in a different way on the Island in the future.
Journalist: Sorry to keep coming back to this, but it seems that this decision will have a pretty heavy impact on our ability to conduct climate science from Macquarie Island year-round at a time when that research is more important than ever.
Nick Gales: It's certainly the case that climate science is more important than ever. It's probably the single largest priority within the Australian Antarctic Program. We support, you could even argue up to two-thirds of our work is conducting areas around higher-latitude climate science, understanding oceanography, ocean ice interactions. Macquarie Island plays a relatively small part in that, but an important part and we will as I have mentioned earlier do what we can to ensure that those elements of the science are supported. We certainly would not wish to see and I don't believe we will see any real degrading in our ability to undertake the the climate science we need to across the southern ocean and around Antarctica.
Journalist: What's the reaction been among the various stakeholder groups that you've spoken to about this decision?
Nick Gales: I think most, a lot of the agencies, it's in some ways, it's not a particularly welcome announcement insofar as the fact that we've been there since 1948. There's a strong emotional and sort of tie to the Island and ending a long period of permanent occupation is always a sad thing to see, but overwhelmingly the responses we've got is an understanding of the situation, an understanding of the basis of the decision and a willingness to engage with us and to manage the transition into a new model. We will ensure that we commemorate the end of this era in some way. We're not quite sure how yet but we'll make sure that we undertake some activities on Macquarie Island as we depart there for the last time at least in terms of permanent presence in March next year and have some event back in Hobart as well because it's part of Tasmania, it's been an important part of Australia's Antarctic Program and a lot of people have had enormous interest in the place.
Journalist: And will the ice breaker still take not just Australian Antarctic Division scientists but scientists from other programs and Parks and Bureau down to Macquarie Island on the way to Antarctica?
Nick Gales: Absolutely. So our new model of operating at Macquarie will be via ship so our icebreaker will go via there. We also take down as part of sharing our resources with the French program, we take French expeditioners down on our aircraft to Antarctica and in return we have access to their vessel, L’Astrolabe and typically we use that vessel to visit Macquarie Island. That will continue into the future. So we imagine every summer for quite a number of years now we'll be visiting the Island either on L'Astrolabe or our own Aurora Australis and in four years time our new icebreaker, and continuing to undertake work from there either directly from the ship or leaving people on the island for a period of time and picking them up later in the summer.
Journalist: When you think of the last Australian researcher will leave Macquarie Island?
Nick Gales: For this summer it will be in March but I expect that they'll be of course then returning back towards the end of the year to undertake science activities but in March 2017 will be the end of permanent occupation on the Island.
Leadership and learning
Jason Ahrens, Casey station leader:
This will be my fourth trip south, so I’ve done two winters on the continent at Davis station in 2007 and 2013 and I’ve done one at Macquarie Island in the subantarctic. It’s a package deal, there’s not one thing that I go back for, it’s the people, meeting the people and getting to know them, the remoteness, the isolation is attractive to me. I like the fact that it’s a challenge, that you push yourself. Helping others is why I enjoy the station leader job. At Kingston prior to leaving for Antarctica we do some intense fire training. We can’t call up the fire brigade to come and help us, we are our own fire team. We all do breathing apparatus, we learn from Tas Fire how to handle different situations in fire and how to do a rescue if we need to.
Jenny Wressell, Mawson station leader:
I applied to be a station leader because I grew up in Tasmania, I grew up seeing auroras on the horizon just every now and again and it was enough to make me always want to go to Antarctica. So at Mawson station we use the quad bikes for riding across the sea ice and Auster Rookery is actually one of the biggest emperor penguin rookeries in Antarctica and that’s one of our major research projects over the summer and winter season. They’re also one of our main vehicles for getting out into the field and for recreational activities, so they’re really important to learn how to ride them safely here in Hobart before we leave.
Ali Dean, Davis station leader:
I’m a geologist, so I was working in the outback of Australia before I applied to work in the Antarctic and I’ve now been working down there for 15 years, so it is a big part of my life. Being a station leader I’m involved in every aspect of Antarctic work, from the maintenance programs through to some of the remote field programs. There’s a lot of training that we get, and we get it every time we go to Antarctica, and there’s some things that you might not consider, even down to hydroponics. We have a hydroponics facility at each of the stations and that helps to provide us with greens through the winter, it’s an amazing place to go, it’s lovely and light and humid so it’s always a favourite of the expeditioners.
Esther Rodewald, Macquarie Island station leader:
I’ve spent the last 25 years working freelance in film and television production but I was looking for a bit of a challenge and some new skills to learn and to push myself out of my comfort zone. Antarctica was a place I was very aware of and it was somewhere I never thought I’d get to go. As part of our community training we’re starting boating next week, which is four days of training in IRBs which are small inflatable boats. Macquarie, given the way that it is as an island, it doesn’t have a harbour, it doesn’t have a wharf, so anything that comes in over the water has to come off a large boat onto a little IRB or a LARC or a barge or something and come in over the surf. We need to go through training to get comfortable in those boats in those conditions. And then when we’re down there, if the weather’s nice, we have two coxswains with us this year, so it’s a quicker way to get around the island without having to hike up hill and down again, to get round some of the penguin colonies.
Icy celebration of winter solstice
>> Jenny Wressell – Mawson Station Leader:
Hi, I’m Jenny, the station leader at Mawson station in Antarctica. Today we are celebrating midwinter day or winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The sun last set at Mawson on the nineteenth of June and it will rise again on the twenty-ninth of June. An Antarctic tradition is the midwinter swim. Today’s low was minus 29.3 degrees and the water is around minus 1.8 degrees.
Midwinter is an important day for the station – it means the return of longer days and more sunshine. There are currently 14 people at Mawson station and it’s an amazing experience to be living in such an extreme environment, but at this time of year we also miss our family and friends at home.
First midwinter airdrop to Australian Antarctic station
Dr Nick Gales, Director: A very exciting development in the Antarctic program, we did our very first ever winter airdrop down to one of our stations in Antarctica. It’s a brand new capability for us, working with the RAAF in one of their very large aircraft, a C-17. We were able to drop down mail, some medical equipment and some engineering gear. Our normal pattern is that we have access to Antarctica during the summer only from about October through to March. All of the equipment has to be very carefully planned as to what goes down on the ship, some on aircraft. But once you get to March and the last ship or the last plane departs you have what you have and you have to survive. So this is actually a really important change. It makes it safer to be down there. We can get gear that broke or ran out and we didn’t have spares down there and it just changes the way we can think about working.
Flt Lt Doug Susans, RAAF: We’ll be flying 2000 nautical miles from Avalon down to a drop zone in the vicinity of Casey station on Antarctica. We’ll be airdropping three CDS bundles – that’s a container delivery system bundle – onto the ice and then we’ll be flying back to Hobart. This trip is particularly challenging due to the nature of Casey station being right down in the polar regions of Antarctica. It’s very cold, there’s a lot of icing. A cargo drop is achieved from a C-17 by slowing down to approximately 145 knots, that’s about 270 kilometres per hour. We descend to approximately 5000 feet and we open the back of the aircraft up and electrically release the load and it rolls out the back. As it goes out the back a static line pulls the parachute open and then it falls onto the ground.
Matt Filipowski, Future Concepts Manager: The crews on the ground after the airdrop was completed located them on the drop zone up on the plateau of Antarctica and then they used heavy vehicles and machinery to load those. Each load was approximately 500 kilos each and then transported it the 10 kilometres back to Casey where they unpacked it and checked it all over.
Contract signed for Australia's new icebreaker
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:
Today represents another chapter in the Turnbull government’s plan to drive a stronger economy through an embrace of innovation and scientific research and endeavour. Yesterday, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the Environment Minister Greg Hunt and I announced Australia’s Antarctic Strategy and our 20 Year Action Plan, which establishes Australia as a leader in the Antarctic.
The Treaty regime that governs the Antarctic is undoubtedly in Australia’s national interest, and we support that Treaty’s regime. And it’s interesting to note that when the Antarctic Treaty was first signed in 1959 there were 12 signatory countries; today there are 53.
We are a leader in the Antarctic because it’s in our interests for the Antarctic to remain a natural reserve. There is no mining, no militarisation, it is for peaceful purposes, for scientific research and endeavour.
The centrepiece of our 20 Year Action Plan will be the commissioning of a new icebreaker, a state of the art icebreaker for Australia to continue our groundbreaking Antarctic research. The exciting news is that the icebreaker will be housed here in Hobart, this will be its home port, and that will mean a significant amount of work for local businesses, it will mean more local jobs for the maintenance, the supply and the operations to the Antarctic more generally.
We’re very excited to be working with partners DMS Maritime and other partners for the commissioning of this new icebreaker, a far cry from Sir Douglas Mawson’s first effort in 1911. And this represents a new era in Australia’s leadership in the Antarctic, and in terms of the scientific research, development and endeavour that we will be able to undertake.
And so I’m very pleased as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and responsible for our Treaty obligations to be part of this signing ceremony today which really does mean an enormous amount for Hobart and for Tasmania, reconfirming its status as the premier gateway to East Antarctica.
Now can I hand over to my friend the Environment Minister.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt:
Thanks very much to Julie, and in particular for that overview of Australia’s role in the Antarctic Treaty system and as a global gateway to the Antarctic. To Julie; to Matt Groom, the Tasmanian Minister for State Growth and Environment; to our Senators, Senate President Stephen Parry and Senator David Bushby who together really have been absolute drivers of the Antarctic vision for Tasmania; to our Senate Candidate Jonno Duniam, and to our magnificent Tasmanian lower house members Brett Whiteley and Eric Hutchinson and our candidates Amanda-Sue Markham and Marcus Allen.
And of course to everybody involved with this project, it’s an absolute thrill to be here at the signing ceremony for Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker. The vision, as Julie has said, is to be a global gateway for the Antarctic, indeed to be the global gateway and that’s about Tasmania, that’s about Hobart, but it’s also about the great scientific vision.
Yesterday we announced $255 million for the over land transport, the capacity to search for the great million year ice core, to be engaged in the search for the holy grail of Antarctic research, and all of the funding which goes with it.
Today we are announcing a $1.91 billion lifetime contract for the new Antarctic icebreaker so $1.91 billion for a new Antarctic icebreaker. That is broken up in terms of $530 million for the construction and testing and delivery of the icebreaker and then about $1.38 billion for the lifetime operation, maintenance and development of the icebreaker of which $1.1 billion we expect will be spent here in Tasmania.
So that is a $1.1 billion benefit directly to Tasmania, one of the largest Commonwealth expenditures ever, in Tasmania, and it’s for science, it’s for climate research, it’s for environmental research and it’s for education and health all in Tasmania.
Tasmania has the capacity to become the world’s global gateway but the world’s premier southern hemisphere Antarctic research centre, and that’s about building on our magnificent institutions here.
So that’s a huge contract. But what’s the ship about? The ship is the Millennium Falcon of the Antarctic icebreaking world. Faster, stronger and more capable. And so its length is 156 metres. Its speed is 16 knots. Its capacity is 1.65 metres of ice depth which can be broken when travelling at three knots. And so this is an extraordinary ability to transport people and fuel and logistics to our supply bases so it makes them stronger, but it’s also a scientific platform in itself.
It has bathymetric capacity to map the sea bed, to imagine what could be the case, to discover things which were never known and which may never have been imagined. And so what a vision of the future in scientific research and innovation, and it’s real, and it’s happening here in Tasmania.
It has a scientific platform, so it will be doing in sea trials, it will be doing work on krill, work on the Southern Ocean system, work on the impacts of climate change on our great oceanic systems, so this is the future, here now in Tasmania.
And so with that I am delighted to say that the Commonwealth will today be signing the agreement with DMS Maritime and to be built by Damen shipyards. It’s a great achievement, and to our negotiators, Peter Block, and David Sumner and team, a marathon effort, great outcome, we thank you, we congratulate you and we say to Tasmania, you are now the future. Thank you.
Minister Hunt launches Australian Antarctic Strategy
Let me step back for a moment. Australia’s vision for the Antarctic is of an area of the world’s last great wildernesses. It’s a majestic environment that we want to preserve in its pristine state and to preserve as an area of peaceful cooperation, not competition. And as part of that vision, we want to be the world leading gateway to the Antarctic. And Hobart is the gateway to the Antarctic for the future. That’s what we are seeking to do and that’s what we are setting out as part of this process.
What are our national interests beyond this vision? Our national interests really are four-fold.
Firstly at the environmental level we are custodians of the Antarctic along with others, as an original signatory of the Antarctic Treaty, we have a deep strong duty, we want to preserve this incredible area not just for decades, not just for generations but for eons and eons hence. That is, this generation’s duty and legacy for future generations.
Beyond that, science is a key national interest. This funding today, and this strategy helps us in the search for the million-year ice core. This is one of the world’s great scientific endeavours, and it is likely, on the advice I have from Dr Nick Gales and other scientists within AAD, that if the ice core is to be found, it will be found in Australia’s Antarctic Territory.
A tremendous opportunity, and this is about unearthing the secrets of our climate, unearthing the secrets of our history, in the ice core, and I’ve been fortunate to do ice core exploration work, you discover the history of climate activity over the life of that ice core. And so the bubbles that are found, the concentrations that are found tell us what the climate was like, how it responded, how it acts. And we can learn from that about the very things that will impact on our day to day lives and our trends here in Hobart, here in Tasmania, and here in Australia more broadly.
Beyond the interests of environment and science, we also have the great tasks of national security, and a peaceful cooperative Antarctica is a critical piece of a peaceful cooperative Southern Ocean, and if we have a Southern Ocean which is free of strategic competition, then Australia is safer and the costs for Australians are dramatically lower.
And then last of all we have the economic, and growth and jobs benefits to Hobart and Tasmania, Hobart being the global gateway to the Antarctic. This is about science jobs, education jobs, it’s about logistical jobs, it’s about the attraction of Hobart as a world class visiting point for the creation of climate science, of environmental science, of Antarctic science and for people to participate in that.
So that’s the grand vision, coupled with the interests, then what are the actions which are set out in this 20 Year Strategy and Action Plan for Australia’s Antarctic engagement.
And the actions really boil down to three things. Overall, there’ll be an announcement or there will be an allocation of $255 million of additional new funds over the next 10 years. That is $200 million for firstly the operation of AAD, it’s an average $20 million a year filip to their budget, that’s tremendously important not just for the work of AAD but, as Nick was explaining, the long term ability to plan science. So more scientists on the ice, but with the ability to look and plan over a series of years. I think that’s exceptionally important.
Then beyond that there’s an additional $55 million for on-ice activities as well and that includes the $45 million for a traverse capability. What does it mean? Look over here at the yellow Hagglunds, this is the sort of thing, but with a newer, better, faster version which can help us with what we’re doing on the ice. So overall we’ll be building the ability to traverse inland, to create science opportunities so our scientists are safe, but they are also more mobile, they’re able to be engaged in the search for the million year ice core, they’re able to be engaged in the search for new information about Antarctic life, about the Antarctic climate and about its impacts as a centrepiece of the global climate system.
And then there is $10 million which is for the feasibility study for the bankability study for an all year round runway. This will look at the question of is it economically feasible and attractive, is it physically feasible and achievable and if so where and how should it be built? There will be testing involved, and that’s a really important project.
But right now, a new traverse capability which will give our scientists an unparalleled opportunity and put us right at the forefront, and then the next step, and that comes on top of the announcement only last week of ‘green for go’ for the Hobart runway which will be extended, and in a short period of time that will mean that there’s an extra capability for heavy lift, for extra science through aerial transportation to Antarctica.
There’s one more element, and that of course is the new icebreaker, I will say we are very close to a very significant announcement on a new icebreaker and the full funding for that will be announced in due course. Our negotiators are working very hard and I expect an announcement on that in the imminent future.
Put together, this is the greatest investment in Antarctic research in Australian history and it’s a tribute to all of the scientists here.