Antarctic video gallery
Setting up to go south
Robb Clifton – Australian Antarctic Division Support and Coordination Manager: On average we’ll move between about 450 and 500 people to and from Antarctica over a summer period and that’s by ship and aeroplane. [Music]
Rob Bryson – Australian Antarctic Division Shipping Manager: Last season we shipped 3000 tonnes of cargo south. [Music]
Steve Daw – Australian Antarctic Division Aviation Manager: Arguably aviation in Antarctica is one of the three most challenging environments in the world. [Music]
Robb Clifton: Preparation for the season starts quite a long way out, effectively for us it’s about 12 months out. What we start looking at is the whole range of projects and activities we have to do and then try to work out how we can fit all of those projects and activities in together across the breadth of the season.
So for example this season we have about 80 different projects going to Antarctica. We’ve got voyages, so ships we are using, probably about 3 different ships. We are flying our aircraft, using our helicopters. So we look at that at a macro level across our four stations and how we slot all of those 80 projects in and in fact if we can, when they best fit and what resources they need on the ground.
So each person needs training before they go, they need to have considered what they need to take with them, the design of their science or their project. You know it might be a media project or a construction project, they need to consider the equipment they need, their power needs, what they need on station, whether they need field support and a field camp. How they are then going to get samples and equipment back to Australia, and all their contingencies. Because of course impacting all of this is the great thing we can’t control, which is the Antarctic weather.
Rob Bryson: The main stay and the back bone of our program shipping wise is the Aurora Australis, which has been doing the Antarctic work for the last 20 years. She is a super 1A ice breaker.
Our season is pretty much dictated by environmental conditions and we like to be at certain stations at certain times, dependent on what the ice is like. At the beginning of the season we will always aim to go to Davis first because we can break into the ice there and do our resupply over the ice. And then at the other end of the season we like to be at Mawson after about Australia Day because that’s when the ice is gone and we can actually get into Horseshoe Harbour and do a mooring with the ship and get in there.
So it’s all about timing people, resources, cargo and all that stuff around the environmental conditions. It’s all about herding cats and everything into the one place at the one time to get them out. So it makes an interesting job.
Steve Daw: The AAD operates an airbus 319 that takes our expeditioners to and from Wilkins airdrome from Hobart. The airbus flies about 75,000 nautical miles a year over about 20 odd flights. Normally about 12 flights-14 flights will be down to Wilkins airdrome, with the rest providing support to our other Antarctic partner nations. We also operate a couple of CASA 212 aircraft. The CASA 212’s undertake about 40,000 nautical miles of flying a year. The helicopters also undertake a large number of flights, sometimes up to 1500 flights a season, providing utility support, support to science and shuttling people to and from the skiway at Davis station as well.
Each season probably the most complicated challenge is ensuring that we are providing the right type of support, overcoming weather issues during the course of the season. For the pilots some of the most significant issues would be weather and waiting for the right weather to get off the ground. The pilots have a white on white environment, almost akin to flying in a ping pong ball which can be very demanding.
Robb Clifton: We have a really great team here at head office, who work with our teams through our station leaders on the ground to adjust who’s going, when they are going, when we are going to send certain flights and how we are going to fit the whole jigsaw together. So it’s a pretty non-stop activity that runs for about 6 months and certainly keeps us on our toes because it seems to changes very regularly. [Music]
Reducing seabird mortality
The albatross is one of the world's most spectacular birds. They breed on land but spend most of their time at sea, and can live up to 60 years. When raising their young they're capable of flying several thousand kilometres in one flight, in search of food.
Because they're such long distance travellers they frequently encounter long line fishing boats. The waters off Uruguay are a popular migration destination for albatross around the world.
Sebastián Jiménéz: "This is a feeding ground for many species of seabird from all around the globe. Many of these species are associated with longline fisheries. In our region the most important species are the black brow albatross, the wandering albatross from South Georgia Islands, and also species from New Zealand – like the royal albatross."
As a result of long line fishing, 19 of the world's 24 albatross species are now endangered. Thousands of these magnificent birds are being killed every year.
Graham Robertson: "At the moment we're 175 miles east of Uruguay on the fishing routes… where they target broadbill swordfish and various species of tunas and blue sharks. And we're here to do an experiment on the seabird avoidance effectiveness of a new technology … recently developed technology, which is the machine on my left."
This is the underwater bait setter, also known as the capsule. It's a baited hook deployed underwater through a stainless steel capsule: a revolutionary new device designed to reduce the number of seabirds that die needlessly in longline fishing in the southern hemisphere.
In typical longline fishing, the deckhand simply throws the baited hook overboard. The seabirds see the floating bait as food; swallow it, become hooked and drown when the longline sinks. Every year hundreds of millions of hooks are set in this way for tuna and swordfish.
The bait setter aims to avoid this danger by setting the hooks deep underwater where the seabirds can't get to them. The machine is simple to operate; and after the initial training period, requires no extra work by the crew than the previous model.
Uruguayan fishing master Alfredo Olaya say the experience of working with the bait setter has been extremely positive for him and his crew.
Alfredo Olaya: "The most important thing for me at the moment has been able to introduce a new concept to all the sailors and members of the crew on board this vessel. That is, the concept of responsible fishing. It means to avoid as far as possible, seabird mortality; irresponsible fishing: for example catching juveniles or fish that ought not be caught or discarding things at sea that ought not to be discarded."
In the future, once testing is complete this seabird-friendly device will be available for swordfish and tuna fisherman around the world. This is an important step to stem the catastrophic reduction in albatross numbers and encourage the adoption of sustainable fishing practices.
Mertz Glacier under the microscope
Acting Chief Scientist Martin Riddle:
In January this year, 78 kilometres of the Mertz Glacier ice tongue broke off. Now this is a once in a lifetime event. What happened was a very large iceberg approached it from the eastern side, just gave it a little nudge and that sent it off ricocheting westwards.
The Mertz glacier is due south of Tasmania and it’s a very special place because adjacent to the Mertz glacier is the Mertz polynya. So most of the ocean around the Antarctic is covered in sea ice in winter, but polynyas are kept free of sea ice by the wind blowing the ice away from it. Paradoxically although they have no ice covering them, they are actually an ice factory, so they continually form sea ice and then it gets blown out and cleared.
The formation of sea ice creates heavy brine, heavy salt water, its heavy, its cold and so it sinks. In sinking it drives, pushes water in front of it and in fact the polynya areas that form Antarctic Bottom Water drive the ocean circulation.
The main purpose of the voyage this summer is to better understand what the ice tongues role is in the formation of the polynya and what its role is in driving the development of Antarctic Bottom Water. But it also provides an opportunity to better understand the effects on the biological systems in the region. So we’ll been using satellite remote sensing to see whether primary production is still high in the region.
We’ll also be using underwater videos to see what was living in the area that was previously covered by the ice tongue. We are expecting to see some very different communities. When the tongue was covering it, it was dark, it was very remote from open water. In those conditions very special biological communities develop, that are able to exist and thrive under what are very different conditions.
We’ll be visiting the areas where the ice tongue grounded and hit the continental shelf and getting a baseline that will provide us with a better understanding of how the seabed communities recover after a major disturbance. We are also going to revisit some cold water coral communities that we discovered during the International Polar Year. We want to understand just how common or rare these communities are.
This research is very important in understanding global ocean circulation patterns and the role of polynyas in driving those. More locally the work on the biological processes are important because they are very important areas of high biological productivity around the Antarctic.
The investigations of life under the glacier tongue, will inform our understanding of how life in the Antarctic has changed over time. It will also give us a better indication of what might change if we lose some of the ice shelves, the permanent ice shelves, around the Antarctic.
Hobart farewells expeditioners 1911
Voice-over: “For weeks previous to our departure the good ship Aurora was berthed in Hobart, taking on stores and equipment which were to last for two years.
The 2nd of December 1911 and we were ready to depart. The adventurers were aboard. Dr Mawson and Captain Davis were on the bridge and a great crowd had gathered to see us off.
So we got down the Derwent feeling as if we were aboard a fairy ship bound for a realm of wonderment, enchantment and mystery.”
Ice core drilling at Law Dome in Antarctica
20 year study finds major changes in Southern Ocean plankton
Continuous Plankton Recorder Project Leader, Dr Graham Hosie:
The continuous plankton recorder is a means of mapping the distribution and abundance of plankton. Very quickly and very consistently and very repeatedly over very large areas.
Plankton are the basis of the food web. They are important not only for the food web. They are important for the rest of us in terms of oxygen production, CO2 absorption and we need to map their distribution and abundance to see if it’s changing. If it changes there are consequences for the food web, there are consequences for us.
The CPR is a very simple device, its 1931 technology, it takes in water through a very small aperture at the front as it’s towed behind a ship and traps plankton between two sheets of silk. We then unravel that silk in the laboratory and we have actually got a continuous record of what the plankton existed in the water column over about 450 nautical miles or about 830 kilometres. And at the same time we are recording environmental data so we can match the two, the distribution of the plankton and distribution of oceanography.
The coverage we have got to date is roughly about 70 % around the Antarctic, and to date we have something like about 230 zooplankton species, and probably I think about this stage 70-80 phytoplankton species that we are also looking at.
We are just starting to see indications that we are not seeing as many krill in the sea ice zone as we used to get. We don’t know why, whether it is a change in numbers, a change in distribution or a change in behaviour.
In the sea ice zone, where most of the predators are found during the summer months, the whales, penguins, flying seabirds, it’s a keystone species. These animals have evolved to feed on an organism like krill which are about 50-60 millimetres in size. Now if they disappear or the animals can’t find them to feed on them, they’ll have to either shift their diet to something else, some of the smaller zooplankton, or maybe fish which feed on smaller zooplankton. So there’s consequences higher up, if you start removing keystone species.
We have also been mapping the biogeography of the species, so we have actually now produced a new Atlas on the distribution of what we call our top 50 species. That’s useful for researchers and other monitoring programs they can look in the Atlas and see what species they can expect to see in a certain area.
We need to continue the project, we’ve just set the foundation and we need to continue to look at the potential changes and the consequences. We can use plankton as a bit of an early warning indicating system of what may be coming and what’s happening. It’s the foundation of the whole Antarctic system, if we are not monitoring that part it’s very hard to explain what’s happening elsewhere.
Tracking the secret life of snow petrels
Australian Antarctic Division Ecologist, Dr Colin Southwell:
The Southern Ocean is changing, it’s changing due to a number of impacts, past fisheries, current fisheries, climate change, tourism. We want to try and understand some of the changes that are happening in the ecosystem, but it’s very difficult to do but very few of the species we have access to, to measure and monitor. Seabirds are a bit different in that they come to land to breed, and when they are on land, researchers can access them and we can study them.
We have been studying both penguins, both Adelie penguins and Emperor penguins over the last couple of decades. We will be extending that to flying seabirds as well and in particular we will be focusing on the snow petrel.
We know very little about snow petrels at present and that goes for most species of seabirds. They come to land to breed in October, they stay through the summer months, until about April, and in winter they will be foraging out in the ocean. We don’t know where they forage, we don’t know what they are foraging on during that time.
The research program that we will be doing on the snow petrels this summer will have a number of aspects. We will be doing a population survey on the islands off the Mawson area and that will be the first survey that’s been done, we will be using that as a baseline for future monitoring of populations. We’ve started monitoring breeding success of Béchervaise Island, the number of chicks that are produced each year and we will be extending that this year. We want to collect some samples of guano and feathers, so we can use those samples to infer what they are eating. And we are going to be attaching very small geo-locators which track where they are foraging when they move away from their foraging sites at Mawson, and Davis and Casey.
Snow petrels are very small birds, they weight about 500 grams. So we need to make sure any instruments we place on them are very small and don’t disturb them. The geo-locators are about the size of a 5 cent coin, they weigh about 1.5 grams. We put them on their legs, attached to a leg band. What they do is when the bird is flying they record information on the ambient light levels and the time and from that we can infer generally their location by latitude and longitude.
This research will help us understand the broader scale changes that are happening in the Southern Ocean. Through the fact that we are studying a suite of species, so the snow petrel is one species that we are studying, we are also studying the Adelie penguin and the emperor penguin. And what we are trying to achieve is a suite of ice dependent species. These species will tell us particularly what’s happening in relation to changes in sea ice in the long term.
OktoKopter set to soar Antarctic skies
Aerial whale survey
Video transcriptDR NATALIE KELLY
Over the last three decades, the International Whaling Commission has been undertaking boat based surveys outside of the pack ice in and around Antarctica to study the populations of minke whales. And over that time they’ve noticed an apparent decrease in the population numbers of minke whiles right around Antarctica. So one theory put forward to explain the apparent decrease of minke whales is that the boats can’t see the whales once they’re in the ice so essentially, they can’t count them, they’re not going to part of the abundance estimation. So the Australian government came up with an idea to use aircraft to survey minke whales in the pack ice along the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory. So three years ago we started a pilot project to see whether we could use aircraft used in everyday Antarctic operations to look for and count whales and we found out thankfully that we can use the aircraft.
Our team was based at Casey station and at a field camp around four hundred kilometres to the west over the summer. From the survey perspective we would travel up to the plateau, pop in an aircraft, put our immersion suits on and fly out over the pack ice. And the survey process itself involves the observers squashed up against the tiny little aircraft windows for hours on end just staring out at the pack ice and counting every whale that we see. And we’re up there for many hours of the day. In the pack ice zone itself, we see minke whales and killer whales outside of the pack ice along the ice edge itself, other species congregate such as southern right whales and sperm whales. So in the first few that we undertook this project, we found that there were quite a few whales in the ice, in fact we counted around seventy-six minke whale individuals in the pack ice adjacent to Casey station.
In the following year, we extended the survey much further west across to the Shackleton ice shelf and we tripled the area that we were surveying and we expected to see three times as many whales, but we didn’t. This year we only saw about forty-three individuals, minke whales in the pack ice and that is a very interesting result. We believe that the decrease we observed in minke whale numbers from the 2008/9 summer to this summer probably has lots to do with where the pack ice is. This year the pack ice was incredibly dense so perhaps the whales aren’t coming in to the embayments because they have to go through many tens of nautical miles of solid pack ice to get to the open water for the south. That’s going to be a lot of hard work for the whales. It also suggests we need many more years of studying these populations in a single point and across a larger area, a broader range of longitudes, to truly understand how they’re moving and why they’re moving. I will be presenting the findings from our survey to the International Whaling Commission over the next few weeks. These are just preliminary findings at this stage. We’ve only been home for three months and over the next twelve to eighteen months we’ll be looking at minke whale distribution, just in the little area that we studied and trying to see whether we can match it with environmental data such as oceanographic information or sea ice data, all different sorts of environmental data to see whether there is a correlation there.
Antarctic whale expedition at half way mark
Expedition leader, Dr Nick Gales:
Well it’s all part of a bigger picture, I suppose, of understanding whales in the Southern Ocean. In the International Whaling Commission, in which Australia and New Zealand play a very major role, there's the ongoing important debate about whaling.
Expedition leader, Dr Nick Gales:
Well, we’ll confirm, after a discussion with Andrew and Hully with the weather and conditions if that effectively we should be ready to be operational this afternoon.
Voyage leader, Anthony Hull:
We've just had a briefing this morning with the science crew and we're making serious preparations. Hopefully we might even launch some small boats this afternoon and try to do some sampling work on the whales, so yeah, it's getting pretty exciting and everyone’s really keen to start work.
Whale researcher, Dr Mike Double:
So this a biopsy sample that we just took off the humpback whale. It’s nice to get a sample so we can now sex the whale as well, and also we’ll use it for genotyping too.
Expedition leader, Dr Nick Gales:
Most of these whales were taken down to very tiny numbers and are now recovering, and so we want to know where they’re recovering in the Southern Ocean – it’s a big area. These are big questions for the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem that we can at last start to contribute through these non-lethal tools.