Research into ice shelf-ocean interaction and laser-assisted investigations of Earth’s atmosphere will be a focus of Antarctic climate and environmental field studies this summer.

Australia’s Antarctic program for the 2001–2002 season effectively begins today when the icebreaker Aurora Australis departs from Hobart, bound for Macquarie Island and Casey station.

This is the first of seven main voyages planned for this season. Major science and operational projects include:

  • Continuing study of the interaction between ice shelves and the ocean in the cavity beneath the Amery Ice Shelf, involving placing instruments through drill holes in the ice shelf. This climate-change research looks at ocean circulation, open-ocean interactions, and the mass and flow of ice shelves.
  • Gearing up the advanced laser-powered 'LIDAR’ instrument recently installed at Davis station to investigate the long-term climate and characteristics of the Antarctic atmosphere, from the ground to the edge of space in an increasingly sophisticated series of measurements. Data from the LIDAR will be fed into studies of global climate change and the Antarctic ozone hole, as well as improving understanding of the atmosphere.
  • Examining sea-bed communities near Australian stations to understand their natural variability and how they might be affected by human activities. This information will be used to set priorities for improving operational procedures to reduce the risk of further environmental damage.
  • Conducting field trials on petroleum contamination, which poses a major threat to Antarctic ecosystems because of its persistence and toxicity. Schemes commonly used to clean up petroleum spills in temperate regions need to be modified for cold Antarctic environments.
  • Looking for changes in ocean climate by taking oceanographic measurements across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and comparing this with data from previous measurements. The ocean climate is used as a sensitive indicator of climate change.
  • In addition to scientific research, a team will begin installing Antarctica’s first large-scale wind turbines at Australia’s Mawson station. When the system is fully developed it will provide nearly a megawatt of power and meet virtually all Mawson’s energy needs, generating well over ten times the power of existing Antarctic wind-power systems while having a much lower environmental impact than the current option of diesel fuel.
  • Preparations will also begin for a clean-up of the abandoned Thala Valley waste site near the former Casey station, which follows a two-year study of the site by AAD scientists to determine the best way to remove waste from the area without creating further environmental impacts. The lessons learned here will be used in other site clean-ups throughout Antarctica.
  • Aurora Australis will depart from Macquarie No 4 wharf at 5 p.m. on Friday 28 September for Macquarie Island, arriving there on Monday 1 October. The ship will then continue to Casey station in Antarctica, arriving on 11 October. It will return to Hobart on 26 October.