Air, ice and rock studies seeking information about long-term changes to the Earth's climate dominate grants for Australian research in the Antarctic in 2000–2001, announced today by the Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill.

Senator Hill announced grants totalling $600,000 for 57 antarctic research projects involving universities and government research agencies throughout Australia.

A secondary focus of the coming year's research program is the geological and biological processes of one of Australia's sub-Antarctic World Heritage sites, Heard Island.

"Our concentration on long-term environmental change reflects an increasing concern about the wellbeing of our planet's life support systems," Senator Hill said.

"Australia's research in Antarctica provides vital baseline information on the Earth's climate, covering a very large slice of the globe and going back thousands, even millions, of years," he said.

The wide array of atmospheric, glaciological, biological and geological climate studies include:

  • investigation of Antarctic space weather using a recently-commissioned radar facility in southern Tasmania
  • analysis of production of sulphur gases by Southern Ocean plants and their role in climate regulation in the region
  • sea-floor mapping and drilling in Prydz Bay, Antarctica, to improve understanding of sediment deposits and the climate changes they signal
  • investigation of ice shelf movement and ice-sea interaction to improve prediction of future sea level changes
  • examination of geological formations in the Prince Charles Mountains, Antarctica, to help determine the history of past climate fluctuations indicated by the size of the ice sheet
  • study of the impact of global environmental change on the distribution of animal and plant species
  • and the impact of ultraviolet radiation on shallow water animal communities, part of a global experiment involving several countries.

Heard Island studies will focus on the island's volcanic structures and what they reveal about formation of continents, on its unique indigenous animal and plant communities, and the cultural heritage remaining from the days of whaling and sealing.

Antarctica is the best location on the Earth's surface for observing the faint light of distant stars and galaxies. Australian astronomers will seek to determine the best site for an observatory with the use of an autonomous mobile observatory deployed at various sites around the polar plateau over some years.