So it makes sense that technology is a key enabler of the Australian Antarctic Program. Everywhere I look I see the opportunities it offers and the solutions it provides, including by supporting scientific research that improves our understanding of Antarctica and its global connections, and helping us to protect and conserve the Antarctic environment.
Our new icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, is a perfect example. The technology packed into its 160.3 metre length is astounding. With its huge range of deployment and data acquisition systems it can sample, measure, monitor and visualise the ocean, sea ice and atmosphere in ways limited only by scientists’ imaginations.
The research we will be able to do on this ship will enhance our ability to support and improve scientific management and conservation outcomes through such bodies as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and further our understanding of the influence of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean on global weather and climate.
To cope with this new capability the Australian Antarctic Division is augmenting our Technology and Innovation team to help scientists make the most of what the ship offers and the data they collect (see Assembling an ‘A-team').
This team will also contribute to the running of containerised laboratories that are integral to the ship’s design. These ‘science modules’ have been designed by Antarctic Division staff to have a standard service interface that plugs directly into the ship’s power and alarm systems, improving the safety and efficiency of installation or removal during port calls, and enhancing safety and research flexibility while at sea.
Technology is also critical to our Million Year Ice Core Project, to drill 3000 metres into the Antarctic ice sheet and extract a core containing climate information from a critical period in Earth’s climate history. Our scientists and the technology team are adding Australian innovation and technology development to American and European ice drill designs, and building the drill right here.
Technology is not confined to our science. As part of our Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship program this season, two digital artists will capture a virtual representation of the Aurora Australis and its complement as they sail south, providing a life beyond the ship’s last Antarctic voyage. The pair’s tool kit includes drones, a portable motion capture system, LiDAR scanning, and cameras, to map the physical aspects of the voyage. Their recordings will be joined together into playable artworks for immersive experiences at galleries and festivals, and via mobile, gaming and virtual reality technology.
Last but not least, technology is teaching us more about the world in which we live, and our research environment. Acoustic moorings developed at the Australian Antarctic Division have captured a year of sound in the Southern Ocean, providing valuable insights into the movement and presence of marine mammal species, including whale species recovering from human exploitation.
As the Australian Antarctic Program seeks to modernise and reach towards its future, I’m excited about how the technology and innovation we apply to managing our own workloads and achieving our research objectives can be applied to broader Australian and international issues.
In the next issue of the magazine we’ll look at the application of our work to some of these issues, including understanding and adapting to climate change and contributing to space exploration, and the role of technology in facilitating this.
Australian Antarctic Division