Antarctic video gallery
Macquarie Island life
Dr James Doube
It's a pretty amazing place to live. It's, both from a community sense, you're with a group of really interesting people who've genuinely done a wide variety of things before and come down here, not because it's just another job but because they're wanting that greater experience or that interaction with the environment. It's almost like living in some sort of nature documentary. There are so many animals packed in such a small space. Most of the animals that we think about living in the Antarctic don't actually want to have their babies on the ice so many of the seals, the albatrosses and many species of penguin that may feed further south want to lay their eggs on the last bit of sort of normal green-covered dirt rather than ice and that's what Macquarie Island represents.
Boiling to freezing in seconds at Mawson station!
“Come on outside.
I've got here, freshly boiled water … and extreme cold.
If I throw this up into the air, the water won't hit the ground. It will come out as ice crystals. Watch carefully…
All of it actually froze, before the water hit the ground.
Minus 28 out here. It's fresh! I'm going back inside.”
Australian Antarctic Division Senior Environmental Policy Officer Ewan McIvor
Since the Treaty was signed in 1959 there was increasing recognition amongst the parties of the need to establish measures to protect the Antarctic environment. They all came to a head in 1991 when the Antarctic Treaty parties signed the Madrid protocol and that’s really the fundamental international frame-work for protecting the Antarctic environment.
It designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. It bans mining importantly it basically requires that care for the environment is a fundamental consideration in all activities that are planned and conducted in Antarctica.
The Committee for Environment Protection or the CEP was established by the Madrid protocol. So the CEP is the main environmental advisory body under the Antarctic Treaty. It develops and provides advice to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and Antarctic Treaty parties on how to achieve those environmental objectives.
The CEP is comprised of representatives from each of the 35 countries that are a party to the protocol and it also includes expert advisers from various other international organisations with environmental, scientific and technical expertise.
So there’s a number of checks and balances that assist - a process to exchange information annually, that’s made publicly available, on how countries are meeting their obligations under the Madrid protocol. And then there is also a system of conducting inspections under the Treaty and the Madrid Protocol. So generally countries operating in Antarctica have a good understanding of what other countries are doing including their environmental practices.
Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dr Martin Riddle
The research that we do is to support Australia’s efforts to protect the Antarctic environment and to feed into the Antarctic treaty system’s Committee for Environmental Protection.
Our key priorities are to establish an observing system for identifying change in the Antarctic environment and the ecosystems and to attribute that change, to separate change that might be natural variability from that caused by the presence of people in the Antarctic, from that change that might be a consequence of global processes such as climate change or ocean acidification.
Second priority is to provide the scientific foundation for a truly representative, adequate and comprehensive system of protected areas for the Antarctic under the environmental protocol.
To provide the scientific foundation requires understanding what values we are trying to protect these include biodiversity, the special geology, special land formations, even the aesthetic and wilderness values of the Antarctic.
Our third priority is to prevent, mitigate and remediate impacts caused by people there. Particular priorities for us are the risk of introduced non-native species and remediating contaminated sites. We’ve been undertaking research to develop in-situ remediation technologies.
The Antarctic Treaty Meeting has a very important role in sharing information. Different parties develop expertise in different areas of science and technology for protecting the Antarctic environment. So if one party has developed some technique that works we share that, we don’t repeat the research to ensure that all parties and particular the environment gets the benefit of that research.
Dr Aleks Terauds explains Antarctic bioregions
Dr Aleks Terauds
Australian Antarctic Division Terrestrial Biologist
Some of the research that was released this week was involved with looking at the bio-regionalisation of Antarctica and how terrestrial Antarctica can actually be divided up into 15 biologically distinct regions.
What we did in this analysis was we gathered together as much biodiversity information as we could, over 38,000 records, of things that live in terrestrial Antarctica and we put all this together in some spatial frameworks to work out what was different and what was similar to each other.
The 15 regions encompass all of Antarctica. On the northern peninsula for example, the Antarctic Peninsula, which is close to South America you get some grasses and cushion plants growing there for example that you don’t get growing anywhere else in Antarctica. We go across to East Antarctica you still get things like large moss beds which represent some of the most productive vegetation on the Antarctic continent. And then at the other extreme you have the dry valleys in the Ross Sea region.
The implications of these areas are quite important for movements within Antarctica. By showing that these 15 regions are biologically different to each other we also know that we have to be careful moving within these regions within Antarctica. We also have to think about bio-security measures that are needed to prevent the transfer of life and the homogenisation of biodiversity. 7
At the moment we have a very good starting framework for bio-security protocols in existence already. The tourism industry and through the Council for Managing National Antarctic Programs have got very good protocols in place and they’re effective. I think we have a good starting point and I think that there is scope for further development into the future.
It’s really only in the last few years that people are travelling to so many different parts of Antarctica from so many different locations and so we are actually starting at a pretty good point in terms of trying to make sure that we don’t transfer to much biodiversity between these unique regions. There’s no doubt that it’s probably happened in small areas of Antarctic already, but we are hoping now with this new research and perhaps development of better protocols that we can stop it into the future.
Australian Antarctic Science
Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting XXXV
Hobart June 2012
Australian Antarctic Science
Australian Antarctic Division Chief Scientist Dr Nick Gales
We’ve just started a new science strategic plan, the development of that plan was really about ensuring that all of the science that we do in Antarctica was aimed at our national and international priorities and goals and obviously the Antarctic Treaty system is fundamental to that.
We look into two major areas, one of them is ensuring that all of the activities conducted by humans are done so in a way that is sustainable and limits our footprint in Antarctica if you like. So that covers a whole range of things like building stations, cleaning up past pollution, looking at the areas we need to protect from human activities to preserve biodiversity.
The other area is trying to work out the role of Antarctica in global climate, in global weather systems and what might happen into the future. So feeding into those global climate models with important information on how the plateau is changing, how much ice is melting, what’s happening to sea ice and then what’s happening to the biological systems that revolve around all of that physical change. So they’re the two major thrusts of the science.
Within the Treaty system we have the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living resources (CCAMLR) and that has a scientific committee. And that’s really about understanding how much krill there is, how the fisheries are going, ensuring that all of the management practices conducted by the Treaty members in that fishery are done sustainably.
The other part is through the Convention for Environmental Protection, which is another part of the Antarctic treaty system, and that’s where we work on the cleaning up of rubbish tips and then the work around station footprints.
So a large part of the way we are able to do our work is through collaborating with other nations and it is fundamental to us. In comparing notes on what we think are the priority areas of science, working how our logistics can be shared to get our scientists in to the deep field to collect ice-cores or sharing marine resources, like ships to go down and do surveys.
On your own you can do a certain amount, but it you collaborate broadly with the other nations in our area you can do so much more.
Antarctic nations gather in Hobart
Australian Antarctic Division Director Dr Tony Fleming:
The Antarctic Treaty was negotiated over 50 years ago and there currently are 50 nations which are a party to the Antarctic Treaty and the Treaty governs Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
These nations which are bound by an incredible international instrument, it places peace and science at the centre of Antarctica’s future.
It drives collaboration which has been very successful in bringing nations together to cooperate on operational matters, to cooperate on logistics and most importantly to cooperate on scientific investigations.
Nations which are a party to the Antarctic treaty system hold an annual meeting and they’re holding the meeting in Hobart this year. It’s the third time the meeting’s been held in Australia, it’s the first time the meeting has been held in Hobart, Australia’s gateway to the Antarctic. So it’s a really important event for Australia and for Hobart as well.
There’ll be a discussion about a range of policy matters, things like invasive species, things like protection of the Antarctic environment and also tourism in the Antarctic.
It is an incredibly important year to host the Treaty meeting because it’s the centenary of the Australasian Antarctica Expedition - that was the expedition led by Douglas Mawson. It was our first expedition, went down to commonwealth bay and explored much of eastern Antarctica and ever since then Australia’s has had a vital interest in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
We have neighbours in East Antarctica ranging from France, Russia, China, India and Japan. South Korea is now building a base. We have a shared facility with Romania. So there’s an incredible sense of collaboration in Antarctic affairs.
I have only had limited experience in Antarctica, I’ve been in this job for less than 10 months. But I’ve already been struck by the positive spirit of collaboration of many nations and they put collaboration first and foremost.
Southern Ocean Ecosystems program overview
Southern Ocean Ecosystems: Environmental Change and Conservation
To conduct the scientific research necessary for understanding the impact of global change on Southern Ocean ecosystems, the effective conservation of Antarctic and Southern Ocean wildlife and the sustainable, ecosystem-based management of Southern Ocean fisheries.
Marine ecosystem change
Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dr Andrew Constable:
Southern Oceans Ecosystems Change is about trying to understand what the historical changes in the Southern Oceans ecosystems have been, looking at the state of ecosystems as they are now and then trying to forecast what changes might occur in the future. One of the key problems for us is to understand what climate change impacts will have on southern ocean ecosystems and that has large ramifications for what Australia would like to achieve in the region.
Australia spends most of its research effort in the Indian sector of the southern ocean which is south of Australia but also to the west. We have a territory at Heard Island and McDonald Islands in the southern Indian Ocean and we also have the stations throughout the eastern Antarctica.
Southern ocean ecosystems are very important for some of the global systems: the productivity that occurs in the southern ocean, the plankton converting carbon into mass and the sinking of that mass into the deep ocean. There’s a key part of the carbon cycle. One of the big questions at present is what result there is of the take-up of carbon in the ocean which is giving rise to acidification. What’s that going to do to the ecosystem? We already know that there are some species at the low traffic levels, those phytoplankton but also some zooplankton, which are being impacted by changes in pH of the oceans.
Some laboratory experiments here at the Australian Antarctic Division that have been undertaken by our krill biology program is showing that krill larval development may be impacted by a change in pH and it’s forecast that krill populations could be impacted in the next fifty to a hundred years if this goes on. That will have serious ramifications for the southern ocean food webs but setting up large scale programs to measure change is a real challenge.
We’ve been doing that effectively at Bechervaise Island at our Mawson Station. We have had a program there monitoring the Adelie penguin colonies, measuring their diet and how that’s changing, measuring the impacts of sea ice on adelie penguins and so on. We’ve been doing that now for some thirty years.
One of the parts of our strategic plan is look at the conservation of wildlife generally and the main components of that stream of our work is to look at what’s going to happen to whales. Are they going to recover? That’s a big question and also what’s going to happen to penguins, seals, flying birds and so on. We need to know about the dynamics of those populations, how many are there, what are the key drivers of the populations and what will affect their change.
There are two main areas of interest for Australia in managing fisheries. There’s the fisheries for toothfish and ice fish at Heard Island and McDonald Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean and there’s also the potential for krill fishing in the higher latitudes around eastern Antarctica. Those two types of fisheries present various problems for the mission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CAMLR for short. CAMLR, it’s the only international convention designed to ensure conservation of marine living resources in a region and then having requirements for how fishing can be undertaken to be consistent with conservation. So for krill fisheries, the questions that many Australian scientists have been addressing is what could the impacts of a krill fishery have on predators of krill. What we need to know about is, what could the impacts of krill fishing have on the recovery of whales? So we need to know about, well how many whales are there? What do they need in relation to krill? And then, how can we be sure that they can retain that food supply with an escalation of the krill fishery?
The Australian fishing industry has been successful in getting marine stewardship council certification for both the the Patagonian tooth fish and the mackerel ice fish fisheries at Heard Island and that’s a substantial achievement. That’s a recognition that the management practices and the research in the region will deliver sustainable fisheries in the long-term.
There are a number of research programs that we need to continue in the region so with the fishing industry and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, scientists here at the Australian Antarctic Division have been looking at what the effects of fishing might be on benthic habitats, both trawling and long lining and trying to develop a better understanding of how the fisheries can be managed in such a way that the conservation of benthic habitats will be achieved in the long-term.
There’s been an agenda to establish a representative system of marine protected areas globally. The deadline is 2012 to try and have substantial progress towards that and Australia sees that the establishment of marine protected areas in eastern Antarctica can not only help conserve marine biodiversity but also provide reference areas we need to understand the dynamics of these ecosystems.
So our teams have a number of different components. We have laboratory technicians, we have our researchers and we have our field staff. What happens with our field staff is that they’re specially trained people that can deploy our nets, can tag different kinds of animals, can basically live in the field for long periods and monitoring animals. Tracking where they go in the ocean, what food they’ve eaten, and basically have to live in Antarctica up to six months in some cases.
So our marine research is not just based at the stations but we also use the Australian resupply vessel, the Aurora Australis and we run marine science voyages, anything up to sixty, seventy days where we can try to look at measuring abundance of krill, looking at the abundance of fish, also trying to go to places where we know that the predators go and see what’s there as well. So we try to link our research across the whole ecosystem and get the best we can for the time that we have at sea and also on station.
Mawson station Field Training Officer Mel Fitzpatrick at work
So it's a pretty windy day here at Mawson and Malcolm and I are heading out to drill some sea ice. Every week we try and take sea ice measurements.
This is the drill. The weather's a little bit inclement, but we're going to use an electric drill today instead of a hand drill to make it a bit quicker.
So we're looking at the sea ice here, this sea ice has formed about six weeks ago. It's now about 80 centimetres thick and we take weekly measurements just to check how it changes. So this is science, Antarctic style.
And, the bottom of the sea ice.
[Wind, crackling sound]
Back on station. Well that was another excellent day at the office. See you all later.
US Neptune plane crash, November 1961, Wilkes – narrated by Bill Burch
Video transcriptNeptune Crash Eyewitness Account
We had had a day or so's notice that a US Airforce Neptune would be calling in on its return run of a magnetometre (sic) survey from McMurdo sound to Mirny, the Russian station about eight hundred kilometres west of us at Wilkes. They would stay overnight and fly back to McMurdo the next day so we became the ground staff of banana belt airlines (BBA). Trundled a sled of fuel up to a more-or-less flat spot on the plateau known as the Wilkes airstrip and whilst Max Berrigan (sic) toed and froed up and down the strip flattening out the [?] a bit more with his D4, the rest of us waited in a beautiful, calm sunshine for their arrival. Before landing, they circled a couple of times, establishing contact with our radio crew in the Weasel and trying to gauge the best spot to land. After landing in a flurry of powdered snow, the ungainly looking black bird with its bright orange tail and wingtips waddled over to our terminal, shut down and nine men emerged from a door in the middle of the fuselage. After all the self introductions, much patting of the dogs and comments about the strip being nearly as bad as Mirny, all but one of the crew, Bill Chastain, piled onto the ground transport with our welcoming party except for me. The sled was now fitted with chairs from our canteen, leaving him and I with the Weasel and the task of refuelling the aircraft. All we had was a hand-pump so it was a very tedious task made all the more frustrating because as we pumped up into the belly of the plane, fuel seemed to be streaming out from some drain hole in the rear. Normal spillage, my companion assured me. Well, he should know. I'd never seen an aircraft like this before, let alone refuelled it from forty-four gallon drums in Antarctica. After what seemed like hours of arm numbing pumping, he deemed the tank full so we closed everything down and took off to join the rest of the team in a big party back at the station. Next morning, a farewell contingent, diminished by some excesses the night before, escorted our new friends back to the airstrip on yet another perfect day. Some jet-assisted take-off rocket bottles (JATOs) were clipped on to the sides near the tail. Hand-shakes and back-slaps, a final pat of the dogs and all but the engineer climbed on to the plane as the engine starting routine began. With all engines running smoothly, the engineer climbed on board. Variants (sic) of us moved in to good viewing positions. I committed to the telephoto lens on the movie camera to maximise the sight of the JATOs firing. The Weasel headed off down the side of the runway. Four cockpit crew actually walked out of this, but the five in the belly of the plane had no chance. Apart from severe burns to exposed skin, those who got out were relatively lightly injured. It was agreed that the five others must have perished and our priority (sic) was getting the injured back to base as quickly as possible. Max and I were asked to stay back and record the wreck site as well as we could in case a blizzard wiped out vital evidence for any crash investigation. Locating the bodies of the others for later recovery was also part of the plan. After forty minutes or so, the burned-out centre of the middle bird was cool enough to approach closely. Knowing where most of the crew had been sitting, it was obvious where they should be. It was three days later when a C130 Hercules from the US Antarctic Squadron VX6 arrived to repatriate the injured and retrieve the bodies of the dead.
Neptune memorial ceremony at Wilkes station Antarctica
Video transcriptWilkes Ceremony
Mark Hunt, Casey station leader
So we've come here today to formally acknowledge the tragedy of the Bluebird which was a Neptune P2V aircraft that crashed on take off near here, early in the 1961-62 summer. The aircraft involved was call-sign Bluebird and it was heading back from a trip over to Moonie station. It was on its way to McMurdo and it just stopped near Wilkes here, up on the plateau behind us to refuel overnight. It came in the afternoon, the Australians went up to help refuel and everybody went back down to station that evening for some food which the Americans had brought in and everybody really enjoyed that. They had a few drinks, got to know the dogs, and then in the morning headed off for the plane to return and unfortunately it crashed on takeoff and five people died and four people survived. It's worth remembering that today, in the middle of summer, we have an aviation program where scientists can leave Hobart and come down here for a week then go home again and be back there after a flight of four and a half or five hours. It's very different to what it was fifty years ago. It's also worth remembering that some of us standing here actually started our season coming in through McMurdo with a shared logistics program with the US and in fifty years much has changed but it's interesting to note that we're still working with the US, just as we were here fifty-odd years ago and we're still working together in the aviation program. So it's particularly salient that today we remember the people who were involved in that crash of the Bluebird, fifty years ago. It's exactly half-way in our Antarctic history. Fifty years after Mawson. Fifty years before us. I'm dedicating this plaque. It's worth taking some time to reflect on the sacrifices made by all of the people who've been impacted by the crash of the Bluebird but particularly those based at Wilkes at the time. Both those who survived the crash and those who lost their lives in it.
I was really lucky to be in Hobart in November when there was a commemorative ceremony for the crash of the Neptune aircraft and I met quite a few of the guys who were down here in 1961 and who were part of the whole refuelling and then recovery exercise from the wreck and I talked to people like Neville Smethurst, who was the OIC at the time and Bill Burch who photographed it and Ernie Hand who was the co-pilot in the aircraft itself. Talking to those guys fifty years on, trying to understand what they must have gone through, realising how fresh the memory was, gave me an enormous appreciation of the importance of the event and the importance of making sure that we appropriately remembered it and dedicated the memorial down here this season.