Global and regional climate change, the health and well being of the wildlife and managing the Southern Ocean ecosystem are the main study themes among the Antarctic research projects granted Australian Government funding this year.

Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Antarctic, announced today that the Government has allocated $670,000 for 54 projects under the Australian Antarctic Science Grants (AAS) program for 2002–2003.

“The scientists undertaking these projects are following the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, which has set aside Antarctica for peaceful purposes, in particular the pursuit of science for better understanding of the region and for the benefit of all the world”, Dr Stone said.

“Our Antarctic grants scheme is a good illustration of the Government’s commitment to supporting long-term research that assists our understanding of this frozen continent to our south while helping us to preserve its natural qualities”.

“Australia leads the world in research into managing Southern Ocean fisheries. This is essential to ensure that the potential impact of illegal fishers is understood, the takes that are possible with development of a sustainable fishery and the conservation of animals — especially seabirds — endangered by that activity.

“It is important that we sustain this level of research if we are to continue to have an influence in the international forums that help us to regulate the fishing industries,” Dr Stone said.

The Australian Antarctic Division’s Chief Scientist, Professor Michael Stoddart, said that with the Australian research program’s five-year science plan now three years old, a more complete picture of fundamental processes and changes in the region was beginning to emerge.

Among the projects supported this season are:

  • an intensive Australian-German study of the physical and climatic history of Antarctica’s remote southern Prince Charles Mountains, seeking to fill major gaps in knowledge of a period when Australia and Antarctica were one continent
  • a study of the production and movement of extremely cold, dense “Antarctic Bottom Water” to improve climate forecasting models and understanding of their influence on Southern Ocean ecosystems
  • analysis of contaminated sites in Antarctica to guide work to manage the contaminants and rehabilitate the sites producing new technology with application to similar sites elsewhere in the world
  • studies of fur seals on Australia’s sub-Antarctic islands which have indicated rapidly rising numbers with implications for Southern Ocean fisheries
  • investigations of the upper atmosphere above Antarctica and near-Earth space to develop our understanding of the role and influence of this coldest part of the Earth’s atmosphere on weather and climate throughout the world
  • use of robot technology to investigate growth patterns of microscopic plants that grow on the under-side of sea ice off the coast of Antarctica.

The 54 projects awarded an AAS grant this year are among 130 research projects to be conducted next summer.

Note: The announcement coincided with a meeting of the Antarctic Science Advisory Council (ASAC) at Environment Australia’s headquarters in Canberra. ASAC is the premier advisory body to the Federal Government on the direction of Australia’s Antarctic program, priority areas for scientific research and the effectiveness of Australia’s participation in international scientific programs.