The Australian Antarctic Division is putting in place contingency plans for an aerial resupply of Davis station after an early retreat of Antarctic winter sea-ice coverage this year.

The sea ice began its retreat four weeks earlier than normal, after its lowest winter maximum on record of 18.5 million square kilometres.

Operations Manager at the Australian Antarctic Division, Robb Clifton, said the sea ice retreat is being factored into the season plan.

“Each year we normally do an over-ice resupply at Davis station at the start of the season using heavy machinery to move cargo and people across to station,” Mr Clifton said.

“While our regular drilling program on the sea-ice in front of Davis is still showing it’s thick enough to drive on, we may have to use helicopter sling loads if the ice isn’t solid enough when Australia’s icebreaker Aurora Australis arrives at the beginning of November.”

Additionally the satellite imagery is showing some fast-ice, which is sea-ice connected to the land, is breaking up earlier.

“The fast ice off Davis is sheltered between the surrounding islands, which usually reduces the likelihood of the ice breaking out early,” Mr Clifton said.

“The Antarctic Division is used to working in a highly variable Antarctic environment, with sea-ice, ocean conditions, wind speeds, temperature and visibility often changing rapidly.

“We build as much flexibility and contingency into our shipping and aviation operations as possible to cope with a range of eventualities.”

The Aurora Australis sails for Davis on voyage 1 on 27 October.