Antarctic video gallery
Nick Gales – Southern Ocean Research Partnership
Nick Gales - leader, Australian Marine Mammal Centre
I’m Nick Gales. I head up the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, which is part of the Southern Ocean Ecosystems Program in the science branch at the Antarctic Division. I’ve been here for about nine years.
This summer, we’re starting off a very large program. It’s called the Southern Ocean Research Partnership and what it is – it’s through the International Whaling Commission. Virtually all of the countries involved in whale research in the Southern Ocean are getting together to work on one very large collaboration answering the important science questions in the Southern Ocean and this year, this summer, will be our first research voyage. We’re using the New Zealand research vessel, the Tangaroa, and conducting a whale research cruise to the south of New Zealand and Australia.
We’re focusing on looking at the movement of whales on their feeding grounds around the Antarctic pack ice and so we’ll be covering a large area of ice edge focusing on humpback whales and Antarctic minke whales and blue whales and deploying a large number of satellite tags which will give us a lot of animal movement data, collecting biopsy skin samples to look at their genetics and the way the populations are structured in the Southern Ocean, as well as sighting surveys and some use of acoustics listening to whales and looking at whale densities.
This is really focused at answering sort of the knowledge gaps. So, we’ve gone through very strategically and worked out what are the parts we don’t know very well. For some of the species that migrate north and breed in waters around Australia and near land masses, we know quite a lot of their winter activities during the breeding season. We know from other cruises in Antarctica where whales have been sighted as part of other larger research projects but actually we know very little about the way the animals behave down there as a focus and then how they link back to their breeding grounds to the north. Some of the animals that breed still out at sea, we don’t even know where those breeding locations are, so we’re really trying to address some of those questions this summer.
Diving at Davis station
Jonny Stark - benthic ecologist
Life under the ice
Dr Ian Allison - research scientist
I’m Ian Allison. I’m a research scientist studying mostly ice and I head up the Antarctic Division’s Ice, Ocean, Atmosphere and Climate Program.
The ice shelves are the area of Antarctica that is changing the most. We now know that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass to the oceans and that’s occurring because ice shelves are thinning or collapsing. So, we really need to know what’s going to happen in the future. It’s the largest uncertainty in what global sea level will do in the next hundred years, is understanding how the ice sheets and the ice shelves will behave.
The ice shelves fringe about 44-45% of the Antarctic coast. Most of the ice that drains out from the interior goes through floating ice tongues or ice shelves. Now, if those ice shelves melt, and there’s been a number of them have along the Antarctic Peninsula, they don’t themselves raise sea level but they act as a bit of a cork to the ice behind so, if the ice shelf disappears you get more rapid drainage of the ice behind them and that does lead to sea level rise.
We’ve got a finalisation of the large program looking at the Amery Ice Shelf. The main thing we’re doing is putting holes through the ice shelf. We use a hot water drill, basically melt a hole through the ice shelf, 600, 700 metres, and then deploy instruments into the ocean to look at the ocean’s circulation, the structure of the ocean, how it changes seasonally, how much of the ice shelf is melting from underneath.
The surprising thing was that, even under the ice shelf 200 kilometres back from the very front, there’s living organisms. There’s things swimming in the water column, there’s things living on the sea bed in pitch darkness, obviously fed by nutrients that are swept in in the ocean, but we didn’t really expect to find life there.
As well as this work we do in the field, we do satellite remote sensing to study the larger picture and we also develop models, computer models, the interaction of the ice and the ocean, so we can use those to predict the future.
Aerial whale research
I'm Natalie Kelly and I am a post-doc research fellow with CSIRO, but I work with the Australian Antarctic Division to research minke whales in Antarctica. Minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales in the Southern Ocean. They're approximately seven to nine metres in length. They're the most populous as well. Estimates put them at around 500 000 individuals for the whole of the Southern Ocean.
I lead an aerial survey in Antarctica, or East Antarctica, to study minke whales in the sea ice. Over the last three decades or so, the International Whaling Commission has noticed a decline in minke whale numbers. Those numbers are derived from boat-based surveys, but those boats aren't ice-strengthened so they just skirt around the edge. One of the theories is the minke whales are actually moving into the sea ice, away from where the boats can count them, so therefore their numbers are going down.
We're looking at an aerial survey to go over the sea ice and to see whether the whales are in fact in the sea ice. So this is the third year that we've been going down to work with this aerial survey programme. The first couple of years have been a test phase. On a day-to-day basis the aerial survey involves using the CASA 212 aircraft. Now, they're the turbo-prop fixed-wing aircraft that the Australian Antarctic Division uses, more or less as a cargo and personnel moving platform, but we stick observers on the aircraft, on each side, and we just go up and down among the sea ice looking out for whales and counting them as we see them.
This season we've got a much longer survey period. We're going for a nine week window, and we're moving our survey area further west, so hopefully we will be able to detect any pulse changes in the population over that time, and whether they're changing geographically as well. This research is important now because it allows us to be more precise about the population estimates themselves, which the International Whaling Commission needs for more appropriate management.
Giant iceberg heading towards Australia
Neal Young - glaciologist
Latest image we have is just two days ago. It’s about 140 square kilometres. When it left Antarctica, it was about 400 square kilometres, and within several months it had split into a couple of sections and the biggest piece remaining was 200 square kilometres. It’s very rare to get such a big iceberg up at these sort of latitudes. They do happen from time to time, so I say it’s not unusual, but it’s very, very rare.
Here’s a map of observations taken from ships, of icebergs, where the observation’s typically limited to about 56-South latitude. Now, that’s not because they didn’t take any observations; they just didn’t see icebergs, typically, north of that. Yet this position is up here, way out of the zone. I think it’s probably the combination of ocean currents and weather systems that have come past that have given maybe a prevailing southerly wind that helped it on its way.
B17B calved from in there. Other big icebergs came out of that the same time from in here. They came around the coastline, past the Mertz Glacier, right round to here, then from there up towards Australia. It’s still 1,700 kilometres away, so it’s quite a long way away, and it’s not really on our doorstep yet, but it’s been heading steadily towards us, towards the southern coast of Western Australia. It’s very, very rare.
Tracking emperor penguin chicks
DR BARBARA WIENECKE
In Antarctica I study sea birds but the emphasis of my work is on emperor penguins at the moment. In this season, we are hoping to deploy some electronic tags that we haven’t deployed on emperor penguins yet. These, these tags are very interesting and exciting because they will tell us the location of penguins which is something that we have been doing in the past but these instruments will also give us some information about diving activity. We are planning to find ourselves some volunteers amongst the juveniles so that we can actually learn how they develop their diving activity on their very, very first time when they have to hunt for themselves. The tags work in the manner, we obviously have to attach them to the birds so we do that very carefully of course and they are satellite linked. That means that every time the tag makes contact with the satellite then we’ll be able to find out where the foraging areas are but also how the food demands do change with age. In terms of climate change, there are predictions that the frontal areas may be shifting south. If that were to happen, there is a potential that the foraging areas of the emperor penguins could be changed and, clearly, if something as massive as that happens it will have very, very far reaching implications. What fascinates me about emperor penguins is, it’s very hard to describe. They are such an unusual species. You wonder why anyone on Earth would want to do it as tough as these guys. Yes they are extremely well adapted to living in the ice but when you are down there with them, you see what a very, very fine line they’re actually walking and it is an extreme environment. There is no two ways about it so I really wonder A. What drives them? And how do they do it? How do they manage to be that successful?
Narelle Campbell – Casey
Narelle Campbell - Station Leader, Casey station
I'm Narelle Campbell and I'm heading off to Casey station for this coming season. We arrive on station in December 2009 and will be leaving some time December 2010 or even through to January 2011. I'm originally from Wingham and Taree on the north coast of New South Wales. I've always wanted to go to Antarctica and I don't know why. It's just something that's been in me ever since I was a child. Maybe I watched a couple of documentaries when I was younger but there was something about the isolation of Antarctica, it's going back to pure nature. It's one of the most untouched environments in the world. So all that has interested me and also working down there with a group of dynamic and unique different individuals in a very small environment. That's what's attracted me to it. The challenges you'd get down at the Antarctic, which is very different to working back here on the mainland, is the environment, the harshness of the environment, the blizzards, the cold and you've got to be mindful of people's safety. The other challenge is people being away from their families, friends, loved ones for a long period of time and it's providing that support for those individuals to be as comfortable as they can. The highlights are the expeditioners themselves, watching people enjoy the environment so much and watching a group of people enjoy that small community and helping each other out. That's the bit I love, the wildlife, the scenery the whole thing. The whole thing is a great experience. You know in reverse too, it's what are the things that I don't particularly look forward to, there's nothing, you know. I love it, each day is different and you can't expect the same each day and that's the part I like about it.
Mike Woolridge – Davis
Mike Woolridge - Station Leader, Davis station
Hi I'm Mike Woolridge. I'm off to Davis, as a station leader for the summer, and I'm from Blackmans Bay in Tasmania. I came to work for the Antarctic Division in 1993. I can remember vividly walking through these front doors as an expeditioner and by the end of the day I knew I wanted to work here and I would like to go back, and it's always been a goal of mine to manage a station as a station leader. The attraction of Antarctica is basically the passion you build up for having been there. For people that haven't been there, it's usually this mysterious place at the end of the world. Once you've been fortunate to go there, you just realise what it has to offer and what a great place it is. I probably spent two years of my life at Davis station already. But the challenge of working with the community and managing the program for the season is going to be really exciting. Davis has a really big season ahead of it. We're in the middle of constructing a new living quarters, so we have a big building project team going down there to finish construction and fit out over the winter. We also have a treaty inspection coming down. Our director will visit Davis and from Davis they will fly to our neighbours. I would have said local, but they will be quite some way away. We have Russians, Chinese, Japanese stations, in that area of East Antarctica. And we will be conducting treaty inspections. There's going to be a dive program at Davis and that's going to be exciting. And a lot of boating programs.
Davis does have wildlife like most spots in Antarctica, it's significant to that area and you get what you're given. We have penguins, different types of penguins. It's not very far to an emperor penguin colony. We have local Adélie penguins. Davis is lucky in that it also gets elephant seals, there's a wallow there. So towards the end of summer, elephant seals are going to come back to that wallow and expeditioners get the chance to see wildlife like that. And an amazing array of birds.
Mike Craven – Mawson
Mike Craven - Station Leader, Mawson
Hello, I’m Mike Craven. I’m from Margate, five acres down the road here, and I’m heading to Mawson this summer and staying for the 2010 winter. I’ve been going south since 1982. I first decided to go when I was waving away the perspiration in Brisbane on a real hot day with The Courier Mail, and saw a full-page ad for Antarctica and I’ve been hooked ever since.
My very first trip was actually to Macquarie Island and what I felt there was the noise, the hustle and bustle of the animals in summer, because there were just millions of seabirds and seals and things along the beaches, and it just seemed to be a hive of activity. It was just nature just running rampant. It was a really great feeling to be part of it; to actually have the privilege to sit amongst those animals and just enjoy and share what they do throughout the day.
I was attracted to Antarctica by talking to people who’d been before. It struck me as a place that had a freedom to it. It’s a cashless society, it’s a place where people work for each other. Yet, the challenges in Antarctica are the same as ever in terms of environment. The main part of Antarctica’s very cold and is going to be that way through the winter, anyway. The isolation becomes quite extreme when the sun disappears, but communications these days are extremely good.
I think as station leader, my main role is going to be making sure the community acts in harmony and work together for a common purpose, not just in the job that you go down to do but for the entire group, to make sure everybody works well together. Then I guess on another level, from an administrative point of view, it’s just the safety and compliance, making sure everything happens in a manner in which the whole season goes well together.
From my own personal point of view, I really want to go and see the emperor penguins at the Oster colony again. I think it’s one of the wonders of the world.
Injured expeditioner evacuated by US aircraft
Dr Tony Press:
Well, it was a great relief last night to see the aircraft carrying Dwayne land at Hobart Airport shortly before midnight and, on behalf of all the Australian Antarctic expeditioners, we wish him the best. The second thing I’d like to say is that it’s a great tribute to the medical staff and the lay medical team that have looked after Dwayne for the last 18 days that he’s arrived in as good a shape as he could and the reports are that he’s as well as can be expected under very trying circumstances.
The third thing is that I’d really like to thank our colleagues from the US National Science Foundation and US Antarctic Program and our friends from the US Airforce that have given us a great deal of assistance in getting Dwayne back to Australia. This is something that underpins the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty and the cooperation between Antarctic Treaty parties and we’re very, very thankful for the help.
The last thing I’d like to say is my staff have done a magnificent job and I’m really proud of them.
Captain Greg Richert:
For the patient’s safety, we had to make sure to keep him immobilised due to his injuries, which was very complicated in a plane. They vibrate quite a bit, which can also add to a lot of pain problems due to his injuries, which I really shouldn’t get into for privacy’s sake. He had a significant amount of injuries that required a lot of pain control. For that, we ended up having to sedate him entirely for the entire flight so, because of that, we chose to bring a critical care specialist with me from Hawaii which came down a couple of days before the mission.
And then also we had a physician from the Australian Antarctic Division Department, who was a critical care specialist and critical care nurse from their team come, along with my three-person (myself included) team at McMurdo Station gave us an eight-person medical team that was able to intensively monitor the patient the entire flight, keep him stable, keep him sedated for comfort and basically make sure his positioning didn’t change that would further aggravate his injuries.
And the entire flight he was stable. It went as well as we could have hoped for and was very uneventful once we got him on the plane and got him stabilised.
Major Dave Lafrance:
The challenge for us was to see how well the folks at Davis had actually prepared the surface for us and they kind of went so we’ve got to get a plane in, what’s the length that you need and it’s not like you have somebody on station that’s experienced at all the camps at making a proper runway and so, you know, we asked him for as many pictures as possible and I’m envisioning quite a rough surface and it’s going to be quite challenging and I’ll tell you that the folks down there just prepared a great runway for us. It was smooth, it was quite slick but the biggest obstacle for us was making sure the penguins stayed out of our way. [laughter]
They did a fabulous job getting it ready for us and they actually, when we landed, they said, “You only used about a quarter of the runway and we prepared all this runway for you,” and I said, “Don’t worry. Tomorrow we’re taking out very heavy so I’ll use almost all your runway,” and so they did a great job and it made my job a lot easier.
Dr Jeff Ayton:
Firstly, I’d like to say I’m extremely grateful for the efforts of Captain Richards and his team at bringing Dwayne back to Hobart. Dwayne was cared for by the Flying Doctor for 10 days in Antarctica and the lay medical assistants. He has serious injuries but he’s stable and he remains stable and he was stable throughout the flight and this morning at the Royal Hobart Hospital he remains stable. He is being managed in intensive care and will be going to surgery at the earliest opportunity to start surgery on his ankles and feet, which are the most concerning injuries for Dwayne.
The doctor we have down there, Dr Lloyd Fletcher, he is a very experienced doctor. He’s on his eighth winter in Antarctica. He’s a generalist remote medicine doctor and he has done a heroic effort with his lay team in managing Dwayne. Certainly, there are stresses and that those stresses and fatigue are managed with support, tele-medical support, back to the polar medicine unit here and we had four-hourly contacts with the station and the station doctor and the lay medical assistants throughout that period. Of course, it was a huge relief to get the second doctor in at day 10 and some additional medical supplies and then a further relief to have Dwayne safely back in Australia in the early hours of this morning.
The family had an opportunity to see Dwayne at the airport last night at about - just before midnight and I’ve been in contact with the family right throughout the scenario.