In the 100 years since geologist (Sir) Douglas Mawson’s 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), Australia’s Antarctic science has earned a reputation for excellence in discovery, innovation and delivery on national and international goals.
The AAE pursued scientific investigation in a wide range of areas. On land and on the expedition ship Aurora, scientific research was conducted in geology, geography, cartography, geomagnetism, astronomy, meteorology, glaciology, oceanography, zoology, biology and botany. Data collected during this expedition is still used by scientists today for reference and comparison.
The early 1930s saw Mawson’s British, Australian, New Zealand, Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) to east Antarctica, from Enderby Land to Oates Land, collecting scientific data on land and sea, including geology, meteorology, zoology and botany. Publication of the expedition’s reports ran to 13 volumes and was not completed until 1975, indicating the scope and scale of the scientific work undertaken on this expedition.
Today’s modern Australian Antarctic program continues the important scientific work begun by the AAE and BANZARE. As Antarctica grows in national and global importance, the Australian Antarctic Division conducts research in the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic and the subantarctic, addressing critical issues such as climate change, the human footprint on Antarctica and the increasing demands for food security caused by human population growth.
The diverse research program covers physical and life sciences in the atmospheric, terrestrial and marine domains, as well as human biology and medical research. It is also responsible for a broad suite of ongoing observational activities, including a network of meteorological facilities; ionospheric activity monitoring; seismic, magnetic and GPS networks; and hydrographic and bathymetric mapping.
Our science is directed by the Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan 2011–12 to 2020–21 developed in consultation with the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee and approved by the Australian Government on 19 July 2010.
In addition to this work, the Australian Marine Mammal Centre at the Australian Antarctic Division gives us a high-profile role in coordinated studies of Australia’s cetacean research.
Australia’s role in the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the International Whaling Commission and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels requires the highest quality of science to provide credibility and accountability.
More than 100 projects are undertaken in Antarctica, the subantarctic and in Australia, involving scientists from some 28 countries and 176 institutions (search our project database). About 90 Australian graduate students are also associated with the program.