Technology the Antarctic way

Australian Antarctic research work often calls for special electronic and mechanical devices for collecting data and samples. Such equipment must be reliable and able to perform in very cold, harsh Antarctic and marine conditions, which makes it hard or impossible to obtain commercially.

This is where the electronic and mechanical design and manufacturing skills of the Australian Antarctic Division’s Science Technical Support Section come in. Their past and current contribution to our scientific tools of trade covers a wide spectrum of scientific activity:

  • a system to accurately record numbers and location of pack ice seals, operated from ships and helicopters;
  • a hot water drill for making holes through ice shelves hundreds of metres thick to deploy instruments in the water below;
  • novel nets to sample plastic fragments from ocean surface waters;
  • data logging systems for research ships, including specialised display and analysis software;
  • a system to monitor penguin feeding habits, which automatically detects and weighs penguins as they leave and return to their rookeries;
  • control and logging systems for atmospheric studies, including cosmic ray research, all-sky imaging, and the LIDAR project;
  • equipment to sample oceanic phytoplankton throughout voyages;
  • an electromechanical deep ice drill that collected 1.2km of ice core from Law Dome, Antarctica;
  • a digital ice radar system to measure ice up to 5km deep;
  • a gas anaesthetic machine able to operate in very cold conditions to safely anaesthetise seals in the field;
  • an automated system to quickly and accurately measure fish collected by fishing vessels in Antarctic waters;
  • towed sampling systems to allow the collection of ultra-pure, undisturbed water samples from RSV Aurora Australis;
  • samplers to collect the sediment precipitating out of shallow water;
  • easily portable laboratories for ship-board or Antarctic use;
  • electronic tag readers to easily detect and identify individual seals or penguins in the field; and
  • a system able to take photos of what penguins see when they are feeding.

Jon Reeve
Science Technical Support Manager,
Australian Antarctic Division