50 years of cooperation

As this issue of the Australian Antarctic Magazine goes to press, the Australian Antarctic Division is reconstructing its Antarctic science season after a rocky start.

Many of you may have heard about the quad bike accident involving an Australian expeditioner on a field trip near Davis in October. Fortunately, expeditioners and head office staff are well trained and equipped for these uncommon events. Within hours the injured expeditioner was receiving medical care back on station, while experts at head office were galvanising resources in Australia and Antarctica for further medical support and an eventual evacuation. After some delays due to bad weather the expeditioner was successfully returned to Australia on a United States Antarctic Program LC-130 Hercules and is now receiving specialist medical care.

The incident highlights the small but ever-present risks of working in such remote locations. It highlights also the importance of trained personnel who can cooperate well under pressure. Throughout the incident Australia worked closely with international colleagues to explore all evacuation options. This international cooperation is an inherent part of operating in Antarctica, thanks largely to the precedent set during the 1958 International Geophysical Year and the subsequent negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty. It is timely, therefore, that this issue of the magazine looks back on 50 years of peace and cooperation in Antarctica and the preparations for the 50th anniversary in 2009 of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty.

Cooperation and collaboration are also cornerstones of many of our Antarctic science projects this season. While some of the projects planned for 2008–09 may not proceed as scheduled, due to the changes wrought on the schedule by the evacuation, a number of international projects will go ahead. Australia is participating in two large projects, including the provision of significant logistical support, by the Australian Antarctic Division, to a project investigating Antarctica’s enigmatic Gamburtsev Mountains. These relatively unchartered mountains, buried under hundreds of metres of ice, may hold clues to the origin and evolution of Antarctica and, by extension, the Earth's current climate.

This issue of the magazine also focuses on the critical subject of ocean acidification. The Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) hosted a workshop this year, attracting national and international scientists working on this problem in tropical, temperate and Antarctic waters. While the effects of ocean acidification will appear first in the cold, Southern Ocean waters, research elsewhere will provide clues to possible biological responses in the less accessible Southern Ocean. As the article 'The acid test' discusses, a range of other stressors can interact with ocean acidification to affect marine ecosystems. By extension, if we are to fully understand such a widespread and complex phenomenon as ocean acidification, our research cannot be conducted in isolation.

Finally, it is with a mixture of sadness and anticipation that I announce my departure from the Australian Antarctic Division to take up the position of Chief Executive Officer at the ACE CRC in early 2009. I am looking forward to the challenge of leading this remarkable institution and preparing to build a new collaboration when the program funding for the ACE CRC ceases in 2010. I am pleased that through the CRC I can maintain close links with many in the Antarctic community in Australia and overseas.

I would like to express my deep gratitude for the friendships and support provided by my professional colleagues at the Australian Antarctic Division, and elsewhere around the world, over the last 10 years. Your support for me is as good an example as I can imagine of the spirit of cooperation that unites the Antarctic community and underpins the work we do in one of the world’s amazing places. From the big picture global concerns of climate change, to the stresses of organising a medical evacuation, we have been united by a common concern for Antarctica. What a privilege it has been to work with you.


Director, AAD