Antarctic video gallery
Warm ocean water melts largest glacier in East Antarctica
Dr Steve Rintoul – Voyage Science Leader
The Totten glacier has remained a secret, has remained unobserved for so long because its so difficult to get to.
We were extremely lucky on this voyage. When we left Casey and started heading to the Totten I thought it was very unlikely that we were going to be able to reach the Totten itself because we had about 100 km of heavy sea ice to traverse to get to the front of the Totten. And we were very lucky we got just the right weather conditions, just the right wind conditions that allowed us to take advantage of a crack in the ice that opened up that extended all the way to the front of the Totten.
The Totten glacier flows off Antarctica and starts to float and the floating part of the glacier is about 120 km long. Out at the front of the glacier where we made our measurements the ice is about 200 metres thick. It then gets thicker as it goes back towards the Antarctica continent and the grounding line, the place where the glacier leaves the bedrock and starts to float is 2 km below sea level.
The surface of the glacier is sinking, it’s thinning. The question is why? It could be related to the dynamics of the ice itself or it could be because the ocean is melting the glacier from below. The Aurora Australis voyage that we just completed was aimed at testing that second idea – is there any evidence that warm ocean water reaches the glacier capable of driving melt of the floating glacier?
What we found is evidence that exactly that is happening. That warm water does reach the Totten glacier. The temperatures that we measured at the front of the Totten are about 3 degrees warmer than the freezing point at the grounding line and so that’s a measure of how much heat is available to melt the ice.
We can detect melting of glacial ice a few different ways. One is just from the temperature. If we see temperatures that are minus two degrees, we know that must have happened at great depth below the floating ice shelf. That’s the only way you can produce temperatures that cold. As the glacial ice melts, it also leaves a signature in the water, that we can detect using different chemical elements and isotopes.
One of the spectacular successes of the voyage were recovery of oceanographic moorings. One year ago the US ship Nathaniel B Palmer deployed Australian and US moorings near the Totten. So we were able to recover all six of those. Those are important because it will provide a year round record of what’s happening near the Totten.
I’ve been going down south for almost 30 years now. I’ve done 15 trips, 12 of them to Antarctica and I’d have to say that this is probably the most successful trip that I’ve been part of that entire time.
Voyage 2, 2014–2015 season
Jobs in Antarctica 2015
[male voice] The thrill of a lifetime!
If you can get down here, just get it because it's so good – you’re going to love it.
[male voice] People are attracted to work here because of the environment. You know, it’s the allure of Antarctica. It may be on some people’s bucket lists. And it’s a unique working environment that not most Australians have the opportunity to do.
[male voice] It pays well, you get to work with a lot of other professionals that are very experienced. You get to know a lot of skills off them. The conditions are very good down here. You get to live in nice, comfortable accommodation.
[female voice] Obviously it can be hard work at times but everybody knows that in a sense that’s what we’re here for and it’s satisfying to get a job done. We’re really lucky that we do have good recreational opportunities. An effort is made to help us get out and about and you know, see Antarctica.
[female voice] It’s surreal. Its quietness. Its beauty. But it’s also exciting to be picked to be down here. I feel extremely lucky. The feeling of the place is immense.
Davis station decorates the living quarters for Christmas
Happy New Year from Casey station
New Year’s Eve in Antarctica, Casey station – a combination of Australian, Italian and French expeditioners celebrating New Year’s Eve near the south pole.
Happy New Year to Australia and all our loved-ones.
Mapping East Antarctic sea ice
Dr Guy Williams – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
Sea ice thickness represents one of these sort of holy grail at the moment. It’s something that we have difficulty in measuring with great accuracy and with any sort of great success on large scales. So thickness is important because we want to know how much there is. We’ve got a good idea of the area from the satellites, but the satellites can’t tell us the thickness and without the thickness we won’t know the total volume or the total amount of sea ice.
Dr Clay Kunz – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
So this is an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, or AUV, and what it does is it’s a free swimming underwater robot. So it carries on board all of its power and intelligence and navigation equipment so that it is basically free swimming through the water and doing its own thing, as opposed to be being remotely controlled over a tether.
On this particular trip, since we are looking at the underside of the ice, we want to be pretty close to it. So we are driving around, so far we’ve been generally 20 metres underneath the water actually which is less distance under the ice because of course the ice sticks down into the water quite away.
The AUV has a lot of waypoints that it’s trying to get to as it is driving around underwater and the last waypoint that its set to get to is basically back where it started again, which is in open water off the stern of the ship.
Dr Guy Williams – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
It represents a leap forward in observational capability in terms of how we can measure thickness. The multi-beam sonar that we have on this AUV will provide us with a 3-D view of the underside of the sea ice. That will, together with the surface measurements that we are getting from other platforms, like the helicopter, we’ll have a full 3-D map of the entire sea ice flow.
Dr Jan Lieser – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
We are here in Antarctica to measure the thickness of the snow cover and the sea ice which is separating the atmosphere from the ocean. When we know how the thickness of the sea ice cover is changing over time we can estimate the influence of global changing climate on the overall environment down here, which includes not only the physical environment, in terms of sea ice, atmosphere and ocean, but also the biosphere.
We have this helicopter equipped with a whole heap of instruments which we call our flying toolbox. The flying toolbox consists of an aerial photography which is in this bucket down here, we have a radar, a snow thickness radar, which is mounted beneath the skids back there. We have a laser scanner and pyrometer on the front over here. And the whole thing will be combined together with an INS and GPS so that we know where we are and how we are orientated in a 3-D space. It is all driven with an electronics control unit which is in the centre here. This time around we also have a microwave radiometer from our Japanese colleagues which is installed in the boot there. So we fly about 60 nautical miles in one direction, then turn 120 degrees, fly 60 nautical miles in the next direction and then fly back to the ship.
What I like most about working in Antarctica is that so many people from so many different skills come together, work seamlessly, know what they are doing and we are all working towards one goal of gathering as much data as possible on sea ice environment down here.
Action stations: Australian activity in Antarctica
Robb Clifton, Operations Manager
It’s a little bit like a game of chess and playing with a Rubiks cube at the same time, and at the end we come up with an answer that is a plan for the season.
So in an average year, we probably run 80 to 90 projects in Antarctica or the subantarctic and around about 500 to 600 people will travel south over that summer period.
So there’s a whole range of factors that come into play about when we actually need to schedule various activities, and then we need to deconflict those activities if they’re trying to pull on the same resources.
So for example some resupply operations we need good and thick sea ice to undertake the operation, and some science projects might need animals at a certain phase of their biological cycle, so they need to be somewhere at a certain time.
It can be very hard in the Antarctic to link things up. Often you are travelling vast distances that are beyond the range of an aircraft for example, and so you need to have intermediate fuel stops. Now they may or may not exist, you may need to place them yourself, then there’s a long process to do that safely and then do the actual flight that you want to do.
I think the other factor that really comes into play in Antarctica are environmental factors. So it’s pretty unusual in Australia for a sea port or an airport to get closed for some reason, yet our sea port and airports get closed all the time in Antarctica, mainly because of weather, strong winds, the sea states too high, there’s too much sea ice, there’s not enough sea ice, or the visibility’s poor, and so we’re often trying to link up a range of activities, for example a ship arriving at a station with scientists to meet an aircraft to fly them to their science location, and to get all of that to actually happen and those weather windows over distance to link up is very difficult.
For us it’s about having a bit of a bag of tricks I suppose that you can roll out as things change or don’t work out quite how you would like them to.
Voyage 1, 2014–2015 season
Australia and China strengthen Antarctic ties
Australian Antarctic Division Director Dr Tony Fleming
Mr President, Prime Minister, we are delighted today to share your visit in a live link to Antarctica. We have on the video link expeditioners from both our countries currently based at Australia’s Davis station, on the left and China’s Zhongshan station on the right. In Antarctic terms the stations are neighbours and enjoy a great deal of collaboration. Firstly I would like to introduce the Davis station leader James Moloney.
Davis station leader, James Moloney
President Xi and Prime Minister it’s a great pleasure to be talking to you today. With me are Xiaosong Shi, a Chinese observer seconded to our aviation team and Dr Jan Wallace our station doctor. Following the successful completion of our annual resupply we have a contingent of about 80 expeditioners now commencing a summer work projects. Our scientists are studying the effects of ocean acidification on marine microbes in the Southern Ocean. We are also starting to install a new high-quality waste water treatment facility to further reduce our environmental impact. We are very pleased to be hosting Xiaosong and look forward to continuing the strong friendship between Davis and Zhongshan stations.
Australian Antarctic Division Director Dr Tony Fleming
Mr Liu I invite you to introduce the Zhongshan station leader
Chinese State Oceanic Administrator Mr Liu Cigui
Now I would like to ask Mr Wei from the Zhongshan station of China Antarctic Research Centre to give us a briefing.
Zhongshan station leader Mr Wei Fuhai
Honourable President Xi and honourable Prime Minister Abbott you are talking to us live through this video conference though we are at the very stormy and windy South Pole. It is very cold here, but we feel the warmth of your touch. It has been one year since we left out motherland. The Zhongshan station has been operating very smoothly and we are making very steady progress in our various scientific tasks, such as the aurora observation and the earth magnetism observation. This year happens to be the 30th anniversary of China starting exploration in Antarctica. We will continue to uphold the spirit of providing benefit to the entirety of humanity.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
The two station leaders of Zhongshan and Davis, and all your fellow team members, I would like to thank you for your update on how you work and live and board. Your introduction has helped us to get a more direct understanding of the polar scientific studies where you live. On behalf of the Chinese government and people I would like to extend our sincere greetings and respect to all of you - thank you for your work. The unique geographical, climatic and ecological conditions of Antarctica has offered an ideal venue for humanity to gain a better understanding of the history and trend of the evolution of the Earth and the exploration into the secrets of Antarctica hinges on the future of humanity. It is thus of great significance.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Thanks very much it’s a real thrill for me to be here. I want to say to all of our scientists and support staff in Antarctica, Australian and Chinese, thank you for what you do and congratulations on the work you are doing for our benefit and the benefit of future generations. It’s good to see the cooperation which is happening on a day-to-day basis at Davis station. I understand there was a practical example of more dramatic cooperation last year when the Russian ship got stuck in the ice. The Chinese helicopter rescued the people off the Russian ship and sent them to the Australian ice breaker which then brought them back up to Hobart. So, that was a very good and practical illustration of what China and Australia can do to help the world in Antarctica.
Master of Ceremonies Paula Ganly
The first document to be signed today is the Memorandum of Understanding on Antarctic and Southern Ocean cooperation. To be signed for Australia by the Minister for Environment, the honourable Greg Hunt MP and for China by the State Oceanic Administrator, Mr Liu Cigui.
2014-15 Antarctic Station Leaders
James Moloney Davis Station Leader
My name is James Moloney. I’m from Melbourne, Victoria, and I’m going to Davis station for season 2014-15 to fulfil a role as station leader. My background is predominantly working in aid and development internationally, primarily with a public health focus. I’ve been working with the UN and deployment registers such as RedR.
I think what attracts me to Antarctica is, as one author called it, ‘a sense of adventure authenticated by real purpose,’ and I think Antarctica is quite unique in that it offers an operating environment for a very privileged, very professional group of people to undertake work that has real significance.
So, some of the major projects we have going on this year. We’ve got a sizable contingent of skilled tradespersons going down to undertake both a capital works and maintenance project. We have an expanded aviation program comprising of both fixed wing and rotary aircraft. We have quite a number of scientific projects which we focus both on terrestrial sites, near ocean, marine and atmospheric.
The challenge I’ll face I think will largely relate to the operating environment itself, and the challenges that are inherent in that for a group of people that are living and working together in close surrounds for an extended period of time.
Bill DeBruyn Casey Station Leader
My name is Bill DeBruyn. I come from Melbourne, and this year I’m the station leader at Casey for the summer period. My background is, I was a crown policeman for 41 years specialising in emergency management, logistics and major events, skills that readily transferred across to what I’m doing as a station leader. I’ve been three previous times and they’ve all been at Davis, so I’m pretty familiar with Davis and this year it might be a bit of a shock going to Casey. I love going back, a lot of people give you a lot of reasons but I just love the place, I love the work, I love working with the people.
Casey this year has got a very full program, we’ve got the Navy doing some sea bed mapping, we’ve got a lot of biological work, we’ve got wildlife work, we’ve got a very large dive program under the ice, which is quite exciting, looking at the ecosystems. We’ve got some deep field science happening which we’ve got to support with aircraft, so yes it’s a very very full program. No matter how many times I’ve gone down, every year’s been different, with different challenges, different pleasures, different rewards. I go down and it’s a blank canvas for me, and we’ll paint it as the season progresses.
John Leben Mawson Station Leader
My name is John Leben, I’m going to be the station leader for Mawson research station, for 15-16. My background is I joined the Australian Army when I was 15, and I stayed in the Army for 23 years, after which I joined the Country Fire Authority of Victoria. I applied to be a station leader, as it goes back to 30 years ago speaking to ex-expeditioners in the army who had been down for water transport and their experiences they’d had, so it’s been a dream since that time.
The major projects this year on station are the continuing research into Adelie and emperor penguins which we’ll be supporting, particularly over the winter period when there are no research scientists. What attracts me to Antarctica is the environment. It’s unusual, it’s not the same as you get in any other part of the world, and it’s one of the last frontiers that are available to people in the world.
Jacque Comery Macquarie Island Station Leader
My name’s Jacque Comery, I’m from Canberra in the ACT and I have the great privilege of going down to Macquarie Island as station leader. I’m an environmental engineer and my work experience in that role has been quite varied. I’ve managed large infrastructure projects and also worked on multi-disciplinary environmental programs as well. I’m also a scuba diving and first aid instructor. I’m definitely really excited for the opportunity to live and work in a team in one of the most remote places on the planet and to experience the environment, the weather and all of the wildlife on a daily basis is just going to be amazing.
The major projects that we’ll be supporting on Macquarie Island this year are the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service monitoring of albatross, giant petrels and a number of vegetation communities as well. We also have ongoing monitoring of scientific equipment, taking both meteorological and atmospheric measurements and we also monitor the tide gauges and also some seismic equipment. I think managing a small team of only 14 of us over the winter will present its challenges and the need to keep the team cohesive and strong and functioning is one of the most critical parts of my role as station leader.