A range of scientific programs to examine global climate change and a research expedition to uncover secrets about the continental split of Australia from Antarctica will be a focus of a busy summer season of scientific research on the icy continent.

The scientific program will be supplemented by a busy operational schedule including construction trials on a compacted snow runway for the proposed Antarctic air transport link and the erection of wind turbines as the main power generator for Mawson station.

The Australian Antarctic Program for the 2002–03 season starts next week as expeditioners fly to Cape Town, South Africa, to meet the Russian ice breaker Kapitan Khlebnikov for the first voyage south, departing on September 29.

In all there will be 14 voyages deploying personnel and equipment for Australia’s Antarctic program over the next six months. The first voyage from Hobart will be the Aurora Australis, which sets sail for Macquarie Island on October 13.

Major science and operational projects for this summer season include:

  • The Prince Charles Mountains Expedition of Germany and Australia (PCMEGA), which will investigate geological and glaciological histories and past climates in the southern Prince Charles Mountains, a remote and spectacular mountain range 500km south of Mawson Station. The 34-member expedition will identify continental geological and glaciological processes occurring in Australia and Antarctica, prior to and during their separation about 120 million years ago, and relate them to present day observations.
  • In January and February a major science voyage will investigate key aspects of the oceanography and marine biology of the Southern Ocean. The first part of the study will be to examine the distribution and abundance of Antarctic krill offshore from the long-running Adélie penguin monitoring program near Mawson station. This study will contribute to the international Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics Program (GLOBEC) as well as provide information to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which can be used to regulate krill harvesting. The second part of the voyage will examine the structure and flow of the Antarctic circumpolar current, the world’s largest current system. The study will be a key to understanding the global climate system.
  • Subject to environmental, safety and financial approvals, construction trials will begin on a compacted snow runway, 50 kilometres from Casey station, ahead of the proposed air transport link with Hobart, due to be fully operational the following summer.
  • Erection and commissioning of three 300kW wind turbines for Mawson station as part of the Australian Antarctic Division’s commitment to reduce dependence upon fossil fuels and increase use of renewable energy systems. Australia will be the first nation to use wind energy as a significant electricity supply for its Antarctic stations. The wind farm is expected to provide 100 per cent of Mawson’s electricity load for at least 75 per cent of the time.
  • Measuring the decay rates of Antarctic icebergs to provide information on global climate change.
  • Research in support of the planned clean-up of abandoned waste disposal sites in the Casey region, including research on environmental impacts of these sites on the marine environment.
  • Installation of a very high frequency (VHF) atmospheric radar at Davis station to study global atmospheric change, and a major expansion of the neutron monitor at Mawson station to study space weather. The Australian Antarctic Division will also work with the Bureau of Meterorology to research depletion of the ozone layer. The project will be complemented by the use of the advanced laser-powered LIDAR instrument, installed at Davis station to conduct research into the atmosphere above Antarctica.
  • Research into the role of marine single-celled organisms in oceanic processes, their role in global climate change and the impact of UV-B on these organisms.
  • Ongoing studies into the health of Australian Antarctic expeditioners and, in collaboration with NASA, research into the behaviour of personnel who have wintered in Antarctica.

Important research into global climate change will be conducted from a range of perspectives by scientists attached to the Australian Antarctic Division this summer, including from the Space and Atmospheric Science program, the Antarctic Marine Living Resources program, Biology and Glaciology.