Antarctic video gallery
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.
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.
Testing the Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer
In this video PhD student Rob Johnson tests the Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer or FRRF (affectionately referred to as ‘furf’). The FRRF measures the capacity of phytoplankton to photosynthesise.
Phytoplankton absorb some of the sunlight passing through the sea ice, but they cannot absorb all the light that’s available to them. Some of this excess light is deflected by the cells and this is known as fluorescence. The FRRF will measure the level of fluorescence in the phytoplankton, giving a good indication of the health of the species.
The FRRF will be lowered through a hole in the sea ice to a depth of about 50 m and as it descends its LED light will flash known quantities of light at different wavelengths (primarily red, green and blue) at phytoplankton as they float through the instrument. The FRRF will take measurements every half a second. For a 15 minute deployment in one direction, it will collect about 80 000 measurements.
- Association of Polar Early Career Scientists - Part 2
SIPEX voyage video
Dr Klaus Meiners – Science Leader
We are leaving on a voyage which is called the Sea-ice Physics and Ecosystems Experiment. We are leaving on Friday for a 50 day trip and this voyage brings together experts from 9 countries and 17 organisations and we go out there to study the physics, the chemistry and the biology of the sea ice zone, that is the part of the Southern Ocean that is frozen.
We plan a lot of activities and we stop the ship for 2.5 days in one spot, moored to an ice floe and then have up to 40 people working on the ice doing various measurements. Then we also use underwater robots, two of them, and they look at the subsurface of the ice and do oceanographic measurements. And we use instrumented aircraft for regional scale observations of sea ice, especially sea ice thickness. And also look for Krill. Krill is a shrimp-like 5-10 centimetre long crustacean. Krill come at the end of winter under the ice and feed there and that’s critically important for the entire food web and we look at that.
Antarctic sea ice has increased over the last 3 decades by 1 percent, however this is belying really strong regional changes. For example in the West Antarctic Peninsula we have a strong decline in sea ice extent and duration and that has really strong impacts on life in the ocean. These regional changes are also occurring in the Australian Antarctic Territory off East Antarctica, we have changes in duration of the sea-ice.
One of the main questions we try to address is, we would like to learn more about the ice thickness. We have very good data from satellites on ice extent, so how much it is reaching out from the continent, but we are unable at the moment really to measure continuously changes in thickness, and so current changes could go unnoticed.
Krill light trap video
Rob King – Krill biologist
Recently reports have been turning up where krill have been seen down in the deep ocean. And it’s thought they may be feeding on marine snow, the debris raining from above, and also the fauna down on the bottom of the ocean floor. So what we would really love to have is a sample of krill, living krill from the ocean floor, that we can then pump into that metabolic research that we can do up on the surface, growth rates and physiology.
So we are taking a light trap that mounts directly onto the CTD rosette. So that is the oceanographic device that is usually used for taking water samples from the deep ocean. The krill will hopefully be attracted by that.
Then the light trap works by just capturing krill who stray through a funnel into a cone that they find harder to get out of than it was to get in. Then we shut the door on the light trap remotely from above at the surface by firing a little trigger on the CTD and then we bring the thing back to the surface. Then we find out how krill like travelling 2000 metres vertically in the water and whether they are usable or not because we don’t know the answer to that either.
2012-13 Antarctic season
Australian Antarctic Division 2012-13 season
Robb Clifton - Operations Manager
This season, the 2012-13 Antarctic season, is looking like being a pretty exciting one. We’re going to have about 550 people move through our system, in and out of Antarctica, and those people will all be working to achieve outcomes for about 90 different projects across science, policy and infrastructure.
We are going to have a big aviation program. We’ll be using our own Airbus A319, US ski-equipped LC130 Hercules aircraft, Basler ski-planes, Twin Otters flying throughout Antarctica and we’ll also have a couple of helicopters operating from our ships and stations for the whole season as well.
On the shipping front it’s a very big season for us. An exciting project that we are undertaking this year is the SIPEX project, or the Sea Ice Physics experiment. So a little bit unusually we are going into the spring sea ice to do a whole range of scientific activities using the ship, two helicopters and about 90 people, largely scientists onboard the ship.
Then we will have a voyage that will go in and open up Davis station in about mid-November, do the resupply, change-over and deliver summerers into Davis station. And we’ll also deliver people who are going to Mawson as well. Now they will wait at Davis and be flown by light aircraft across to Mawson from the voyage.
The next voyage will be voyage 2 and it will go down to Casey and take in the new wintering team, bring out the folks who spent 12 months there and importantly resupply the station. Those resupplies involve pumping about 800,000 litres of fuel ashore, so it’s not a small activity.
Voyage 3 will go down and pick people up from Davis who’ve had a summer there and also deliver the new winter crew going into Mawson and resupply Mawson station.
Then to wrap up we will go down to Macquarie Island on voyage 4 - change over the team there, resupply the station with food and fuel for the next 12 months and then return to Hobart in about mid-March.
At the end of the season we are doing a really exciting Blue Whale research project out of New Zealand. So for us it’s a big year coming up with a lot going on, all the time being impacted by the thing we can’t control, which is the Antarctica weather.
Dr Nick Gales - AAD Chief Scientist
Antarctica and the Southern Ocean have a huge effect on regional and global climate systems. The Southern Ocean is connected to all the major ocean basins. What happens down here affects everyone on the globe. The high latitude climate science done on the ice and in the oceans is fundamental to understanding how climate is changing and how that is going to affect our lives in the future and how we might need to adapt to those changes.
So this is the first year of our new strategic plan so it’ll be about 60 projects we have just approved. We’ve got projects ranging from major soil remediation projects, using science to investigate ways to clean up past oil spills and so forth.
There is a lot of wildlife work, looking at albatrosses on Macquarie Island, monitoring penguin behaviour around Casey, Davis and at Mawson as well, especially in relation to their links to krill and potential krill fishery issues around Eastern Antarctica. And some of our normal year by year projects that look with various instruments up through our atmosphere and looking at how the levels of the atmosphere are changing over time.
So just next month, in September, we’ll be heading off on our major marine science campaign of the whole season. This is a really large international experiment that is looking at sea ice. And it’s trying to understand the linkages between the ocean, the sea ice and the atmosphere.
At the very end of the Antarctic season we have got a vessel heading south and it’s the first of our major voyages on the Antarctic Blue Whale Project. This is a really large collaboration that we run through the International Whaling Commission. The aim is to have a look at how many of the Blue Whales are remaining in the ocean all around Antarctica. They were once enormously abundant, they were driven down very very close to extinction and there is probably less than 2 percent of the animals down there, even now. So it’s a really exciting voyage.
Australia has a major lead role in a lot of the science. It’s our hundredth anniversary if you like of doing science down south and we have maintained a legacy from Mawson. Our role in science is truly as a global leader in many of the areas.
Medical evacuation of an expeditioner from McMurdo station
Dr Tony Fleming:
We were asked on Tuesday by the US National Science foundation whether we would be able to offer assistance to repatriate a US expeditioner that had medical issues, and we were able to provide assistance.
We have an A319 which is operated by Skytraders and we had the medical team available, and we were able to fly down yesterday morning, in the early hours of yesterday morning, and fly down to McMurdo station and then fly back.
It was a textbook case of an evacuation in Antarctica during the middle of winter.
We had a very fine time window due to light (or very little light). The weather was very kind to us and basically we were able to successfully do the mission as planned, with very little delay.
Preparing the Pegasus runway, they have a crew wintering over down there. They have a small camp that gets set up, and they basically just groom an area of glacial ice to a certain specification.
Captain Garry Studd:
We train for this and we're just extremely happy that because of the co-operation internationally that we've had a successful outcome.
All Antarctic operations depend very much on the weather. We were lucky in that the timing, we got all our ducks in a row at the same time; the right period of daylight, the right weather.
The guys on the ice, to get the runway ready (though they had started for future operations) did a phenomenal job in some pretty nasty conditions. So they were the ones that did the work.
I'd like to thank the guys that travelled with us – all the doctors and medical team. In an operation like this we all work together, we all have our expertise, and they were fantastic.
Dr Tony Fleming:
In closing, this was a complex operation and it was done very smoothly. I just wanted to thank our collaborators: with the United States, New Zealand, all the medical team from the Royal Hobart Hospital and particularly, and last-but-not-least, our staff from the Australian Antarctic Division.
They have exceptional skills, they train for these sort of events and they have a wealth of experience in Antarctica. That’s why, with all that collaboration, with all the skills of our own staff and with skills of the staff from the Royal Hobart hospital; that’s why this operation was a success.
Hunting the Ice Whales promo
Video transcriptHunting the Ice Whales promo
Beloved for their haunting song and approachability, there's still a lot we don't know about the might humpback. Now, a 42 day expedition led by the Australian Antarctic Division will send 16 whale biologists to the bottom of the world to study humpbacks, minkes and other great whales that inhabit these frozen seas. Whale biologist Nick Gales wants to present vital new data to the international whaling commission. Nick Gales: "The information that is really required for conservation management of whales is derived from non-lethal techniques. That's a simple fact." Once underway, there's no turning back. Nick Gales: "All we need is a few cooperative whales." (Men in boat yelling)