The Australian Government Antarctic Division’s ice breaker Aurora Australis will depart Hobart today with 115 expeditioners, including key ice shelf research scientists preparing for their summer schedule.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said that ice shelf research at an area known as the ‘loose tooth’ on the Amery Ice Shelf, was vital to understanding the rifting process of ice shelves that leads to the calving, or birth, of icebergs.

“Knowing how the rifting process works will help scientists get a better understanding of the interplay between climatic, glaciological and oceanic processes”, Senator Campbell said.

“The ‘loose tooth’ region is an area of around 900 km2 which began rifting across the Amery ice shelf over a decade ago. These rifts have been opening up and moving steadily at around four to eight metres a day.

“The rifting of icebergs from Antarctic ice shelves is not unusual, however, a major calving event has not occurred on the Amery Ice Shelf since 1962–63.

“Researchers this season will use Global Positioning System (GPS) units and seismometers to measure movement of the rift and ‘listen’ to the cracking and snapping of the rift system.”

Heading the ‘loose tooth’ project is Professor Richard Coleman from the University of Tasmania who said that measurements taken would help better understand the mechanics of ice shelf rifting and assist in providing answers as to the prime forces responsible for the process.

“The long-term collaborative project between the Antarctic Climate Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), the University of Tasmania and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California has attracted Australian Government support, to date, of around $4.5 million,” Senator Campbell said.

This voyage will also deliver the last major infrastructure for the Wilkins runway in readiness for flights to Antarctica next summer under the Australian Government’s Antarctic Air Service programme.

“Among the facilities being taken south is a transit building. The shelter looks like a normal shipping container but it can transform into a building triple its original size by flipping out the sides.”

Senator Campbell thanked the hard-working, eight-member construction team at the runway site over the past season. The addition of the new facilities will be a dramatic improvement on their current spartan conditions where they have had to carve chunks of ice and melt it for water.