Antarctic video gallery
Macquarie Island clouds timelapse
C-17 missions to Wilkins Aerodrome
The Aurora Australis navigates through sea ice using drone technology
Aurora Australis uses drone technology to navigate sea ice
Flying high on C-17A proof of concept success in Antarctica
Australia’s state of the art icebreaker unveiled
It's a pretty exciting time. At the moment, we're in a process where we're building a half a billion dollar ship that will be the foundation stone for Australia's activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean for the next 30 years.
So it's a best of breed maritime logistics and scientific research platform. That'll be based out of Hobart. So we'll be able to carry 116 expeditioners. It will be around the 160-meter mark in length. It will weigh in excess of 15,000 tons. It'll have a great big helideck on it. It'll have two 55-tonne cranes.
For the first time, we'll be looking at a wet well sampling area, which will allow us to capture and analyse sea creatures as we move through the Southern Ocean. We will have hydrographic scanners and echo sounders that will allow us to map the ocean floor down to a depth of around four kilometres. We will have upper atmospheric scanning in weather radars.
We have to constantly think about how we're going to use that ship for the next 30 years. You have to be able to be flexible and adaptable and be the once in a generation ship that we need to service the program.
Australia’s state of the art icebreaker unveiled
Voyage 1A, 2015–2016 season
Klaus Meiners' fast-ice research
My name is Klaus Meiners. I’m a sea ice scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division. My research focus is on understanding ecosystem processes in ice-covered waters and this year I’m going down to Antarctica to lead a project with six team members.
The aim of the project is to better understand physical sea ice processes in the coastal zone of Antarctica and how they impact on the seasonal development of microscopic algae communities that grow at the bottom of the ice. So we are particularly interested in understanding how snow cover and ice thickness affects light levels at the bottom of the ice and how that effects the seasonal development of these communities.
This project really brings together physicists and biologists and looks at larger scales using new technologies. We use a Remotely Operated Vehicle which is a tethered platform which is instrumented with different sensors and you can use this to measure ice thickness. We also have an upward looking camera where we can look at the subsurface of the ice to look for animals grazing on ice algae. Importantly we have optical sensors and we use these to estimate the amount of algae in the ice.
We try to tease out is ice thickness a driver of this biological communities, where they are, how they develop over the season, or is it more snow cover.
Having regional information on fast-ice algal distribution will help us to assess the vulnerability of the ecosystem to changes in climate which will change sea ice conditions and therefore habitat extent of the algae. The other thing is the algae are considered an important food source for crustaceans or for the pelagic food web. We hope to identify ‘hotspots’ where we find a lot of algae which are there early in the season and that might affect the distribution of predators or higher trophic levels like penguins or seals.
Working down on the station its good to be out there on a cold day. You hear the snow crunching under your boots, you often see crystals glittering in the air, which is call diamond dusts, that’s really beautiful.
This time I’m going with six people and I did a calculation last night; we have a combined experience of 88 years of sea ice field research, and it’s just nice to work with these people. So you learn a lot. You think you know a little bit but then you go out with the old guys and they show you some tricks. It’s nice.
Adélie penguin research
My name’s Colin Southwell. I work at the Australian Antarctic Division, and I’m a seabird ecologist.
In our paper we aimed to assess change in Adélie penguin populations across East Antarctica over the last 30 years. We worked with colleagues from France and Japan to try and cover the full extent of East Antarctica. Now that’s a really large area. It’s a coastline of around about 5000 km, there are over 200 colonies in that area. And what we did was look back at what historical data there was for populations back in the early 1980s and we tried to go back to those same sites and do counts in the 2000s, so that we could compare if the populations had changed over that time.
What we found is that in five regional populations spread right across East Antarctica there’d been a consistent increase of around about the same rate and extent in the populations since 1980. So over 30 years, overall the populations had increased by 70 per cent.
Within the region there was some variability. So within the Davis area for instance, as an example, most of the populations increased at different colonies, but some decreased. And this was happening across all of the regions. So what that told us was that there were some local effects driving populations, but overall there must have been some kind of regional driver of that population change.
There is evidence there’s been quite a substantial decrease in sea ice across East Antarctica in the mid-20th century. It’s possible that the reducing sea ice could have made prey more available to the Adélie penguins. The other thing that happened back in the 20th century was that there was extensive fishing for fish, krill, and also harvesting of whales, and in the 1970s there was a hypothesis called the krill surplus hypothesis that proposed that that would have made available many more krill to other predator populations such as Adélie penguins.
Our work has answered some questions but posed many others. So we worked on Adélie penguins because they’re convenient to study. They’re one of the few components of the marine ecosystem that we can work with easily. But we only have knowledge on a few pieces in this big ecosystem puzzle. And if we can get more information on other parts of the puzzle, other species, particularly the marine species that don’t come on to land to breed then we’re going to be able to piece together the mechanisms of ecosystem change much better than we can. So of course there’s more work that we could do, if only we could measure the marine environment better. Now one way we might be able to do that is to have new technologies that could make those measurements for us, and work on new technologies for making observations, I think, is very important.