The scientific programs undertaken in and around Mawson include middle and upper atmosphere physics, cosmic ray physics, geomagnetism, seismology, biology, meteorology, climate change studies, medicine and automated upper atmospheric sciences.
A number of instruments based at Mawson measure space and atmospheric phenomena. They generally operate remotely and automatically send data to servers in Australia. They include cosmic ray telescopes to measure particle radiation from the sun and outside the solar system, an induction magnetometer to measure ultra low frequency space plasma waves, a geomagnetic observatory to measure changes in the earth’s magnetic field and a riometer to measure changes in the ionosphere (above 90km). The data feed into climate research and models and space weather forecasts.
A long-term monitoring program of Adélie penguins is conducted on Béchervaise Island each summer to provide information required by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for the sustainable management of the krill fishery (see Australian Antarctic Magazine 17: 6–8, 2009). Work also includes detailed nest censuses of snow petrels at Béchervaise Island and broad-scale surveys of snow petrel and Adélie penguin abundance and breeding success in the Mawson region. To determine where the birds forage during the winter months, small archival geo-locator tags are attached to both species and retrieved in following field seasons to download location data.
A ‘multibeam swathe mapper’ (a type of depth sounder) is being used to create a detailed three-dimensional picture of the sea floor at Mawson, Davis and Casey. The swathe mapper sends out a beam of sound on either side of the boat and the returning echo provides depth information in a broad path or swathe. This depth data allows scientists to visualise sea floor features, including iceberg scouring. Regular disturbance of the sea floor by icebergs is expected to favour some marine species and disadvantage others, creating distinctive biological communities. The technology will help scientists document the scales of impacts caused by humans, and potential impacts of future climate change, driven by key processes such as changes in sea ice. This information will contribute to environmental management to protect Antarctic coastal ecosystems.