Australia's Antarctic program for this season gets underway today with the departure from Hobart of the icebreaker Aurora Australis, bound for Davis and Mawson stations. This is the first of eight voyages planned for Aurora Australis and MV Polar Bird by the Australian Antarctic Division. This first voyage will see the deployment of scientists and support personnel undertaking a range of research and operational projects over the coming summer.

"This season will be particularly hectic with two ships transporting approximately 450 expeditioners and 6000 cubic metres of cargo," the Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Press, said today.

"Our research programs will again be focusing on the important issues of global climate change and environmental protection."

Major projects this summer include:

  • A range of research work on Heard Island examining environmental change at sub-Antarctic islands. Heard Island has a permanent ice cap offering a unique opportunity for studying the effects of climate change on plants and animals in parallel with the study of retreating glaciers. Rehabilitation work will also be undertaken on the ruined research station at Atlas Cove.
  • A complex Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) instrument to be installed at Davis station. The LIDAR is designed to measure temperature and wind from the ground to the top of the edge of space (about 90km altitude) to look for evidence of climate change in the polar atmosphere. The instrument is housed in a prefabricated observatory consisting of a laboratory, a computing room and an enclosure with a roll-off roof which houses a large optical telescope.
  • An ice drilling project on the Amery ice shelf near Davis station aims to further understand the role of Antarctica in the global climate system. Researchers will use a state of the art hot water drill to bore 400m through the north-eastern corner of the ice shelf, some 50km from the coast. The borehole will remain open for several days allowing the extraction of sediment cores from the sea floor beneath the ice to help unravel the history of retreat and advance of the shelf across the site.
  • A ship based study of krill off the Mawson coast will assist the development of management measures to ensure any future krill fishery is sustainable. The aim of the study is to better understand the interactions between krill, the physical environment and the predators dependent on krill so that all parts of the ecosystem are protected.

"In addition to scientific research, we will be further examining the feasibility of an airlink between Hobart and Antarctica." Dr Press said.

"In addition to the operational aspects, which may involve a trial flight this summer, the economical and environmental aspects will be looked at further."

The Aurora Australis will depart Macquarie No 4 wharf at 1800 Sunday 1 October and sail to Port Arthur where equipment trials and calibrations will be carried out. The ship will then continue its voyage to Antarctica, departing Port Arthur at 2100 Tuesday 3 October.