The Antarctic research ship Aurora Australis arrived in Hobart today, ending another successful summer season for the Australian Antarctic Program.
Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Sharman Stone, said a number of impressive science and operations programs were run over the summer.
“Projects included significant ice work and field work on the Antarctic continent, and major research on Heard Island and in the Southern Ocean. The Australian Antarctic Division’s achievements are terrific and again demonstrate Australia’s leading role in region,” Dr Stone said.
“The most exciting project this season was the first simultaneous land-sea research program on the marine ecosystem of Heard Island and surrounding Southern Ocean,” Dr Stone said.
“Land-based researchers worked with marine scientists on board the Aurora Australis studying the interactions between the island's five key predators – king and macaroni penguins, black-browed and light-mantled sooty albatross and fur seals – and their prey.
“An understanding of the foraging habits and the diet of the marine species will assist in developing environmentally sustainable fishing limits in the commercial fishery adjacent to the Heard Island and McDonald Island (HIMI) marine reserve.
“The research will help to ensure that fishing in the Southern Ocean does not negatively impact on the region’s biodiversity,” Dr Stone said.
“An exciting bonus from the research was the stunning underwater video footage of a part of the Southern Ocean that had never been seen before. Through a specially-designed video system, researchers captured pictures of a diverse array of animals including Patagonian toothfish, mackerel icefish, octopus, spectacular gardens of feather stars, sea anemones and soft corals on the sea floor.”
Heard Island also provided researchers with an ideal setting to study biological and physical responses to climate change.
“This season glaciologists found that in the past three years, Brown Glacier has retreated 50 metres. The lower slopes of the glacier also were found to have lost as much as 11 metres in thickness. Even up high, where it is colder and changes are less obvious, the surface was found to have lowered by up to four metres.
“This research is valuable as Heard Island is one of only a few places in the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean where we can monitor changes in the climate,” Dr Stone said.
Thala Valley clean up
Australia’s commitment to finding ways to successfully clean up its rubbish sites in Antarctica has paid off with the successful clean up of the Thala Valley tip site near Casey Station.
Dr Stone said this season saw the fruition of years of research into remediation of old tip sites from the days when we left behind whatever we took to Antarctica, with little regard to its effect on the environment.
“Australian Antarctic Division scientists, engineers and policy developers have worked hard to devise the safest and most efficient way to clean up Thala Valley, which has been a test site and a crucial first step towards cleaning up all our sites within our 42 per cent of Antarctic territory.
"This year we were able to bring out the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of waste to be appropriately disposed of back here in Australia.
“The Australian Government has achieved a significant milestone with these pioneering methods and leads other Antarctic Treaty nations in cleaning up its sites,” Dr Stone said.
“The Australian Antarctic Division’s efforts have been supported by waste management company Collex, who donated 240 purpose-built containers, as well as its waste management expertise, to return the rubbish to Australia for any treatment and final disposal.
“The Thala Valley clean up is a wonderful example of Australian Government and private enterprise working together.
“The Australian Antarctic Division worked cooperatively with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) and the Tasmanian Government to bring about the magnificent clean up.”
For the first time, the Australian Antarctic Division was able to resupply its three continental stations — Casey, Davis and Mawson — in a single voyage with the charter of the MV Vasiliy Golovnin.
“The charter worked well and is a far more efficient way to do business. It allows Aurora Australis to be more available for use in marine science research," Dr Stone said.
This year, for the first time, Canadian Twin Otter aircraft were used to transfer personnel between continental stations and to conduct some of the most comprehensive remote science programs yet undertaken by the Australian Antarctic Division.
"The Canadian Twin Otters flew more than 400 hours taking scientists and support personnel to various remote field locations as well as between stations," Dr Stone said.
“The lessons learned this year will assist in developing the operating framework for the AAD’s two CASA 212–400s fixed wing aircraft, which will replace the Twin Otters next summer.
“While helicopters will continue to have a role in Antarctica, the ability of CASA 212–400s to fly greater distances carrying larger loads and to operate in bad weather will allow greater flexibility,” Dr Stone said.
Aurora Australis has returned home expeditioners who have spent the past year on Macquarie Island and four Antarctic Fellows who made the round trip to the island and a brief visit to Casey station.
Antarctic Fellowships are awarded each year to people from a variety of backgrounds but mainly communications-based such as artists, writers, journalists, historians and teachers.