One hundred years since the first Australian-led Antarctic expedition set foot on the frozen continent, a new group of modern-day expeditioners will honour their momentous achievements.
The team of scientists and a noted Australian historian will depart Hobart today on Australia’s ice-breaker, Aurora Australis.
The ship will sail to Commonwealth Bay, where the party hopes to land a little over a century to the day after Dr Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition established its base camp there on 8 January 1912.
The Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Fleming, said it was fitting to recognise and commemorate the significance of Mawson’s expedition in broadening the world’s knowledge of the region.
“A century later we honour the Expedition’s foresight in recognising the importance of Antarctica to Australia and the world.
“The pioneering Australasian Antarctic Expedition’s motive was scientific discovery and exploration, with its work eventually leading to the proclamation of the Australian Antarctic Territory comprising 42% of the continent,” Dr Fleming said.
“Mawson and his men showed extraordinary endurance to succeed in the unequalled hostile and challenging environment. They experienced both triumph and tragedy, with the loss of two of their party, Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis.”
A commemorative event is planned to be held at the Mawson’s Huts site, including installing a time capsule, to mark the centenary of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
The time capsule will contain a message from the Prime Minister to be read at the Commonwealth Bay event, winning competition entries from five Australian students outlining their vision for Antarctica 100 years from now, and a number of documents pertinent to the current Australian Antarctic Program.
To help capture the event for posterity, historian Professor Tom Griffiths will join the voyage to Commonwealth Bay.
Following the Commonwealth Bay visit the Aurora Australis will undertake four weeks of marine science investigating how the Southern Ocean is changing and what impact those changes will have on climate, sea level and marine life.
The ship will sail a transect from Casey station to Fremantle collecting moorings deployed two years ago.
Voyage Leader, Dr Steve Rintoul, said the moorings’ sensors have been measuring the speed, temperature and salinity of the coastal currents adjoining the Antarctic continental shelf.
“These measurements are the first of their kind in this part of the Southern Ocean and will allow us to discover how the deep ocean around Antarctica is changing and how these changes are spreading north into other ocean basins,” Dr Rintoul said.
“The Southern Ocean is warming more rapidly than the global average. Increased rainfall and ice melt have caused widespread freshening of the upper and deep layers of the Southern Ocean, which helps to slow the rate of climate change by absorbing large amounts of heat and carbon dioxide.
“A key goal of our work is to determine if the Southern Ocean will continue to play this role in the future,” he said.
The team of 40 scientists will measure changes in temperature, salinity, carbon dioxide, oxygen and nutrients between Casey station and Fremantle. The measurements are collected using a profiler that is lowered from the ship down to the sea floor, to depths of more than 5km.
The Aurora Australis arrives in Fremantle in early February.