Antarctic icebreaker RSV Nuyina will set sail for Mawson research station for the first time this week, 70 years after the ice-strengthened MV Kista Dan sailed a similar route to establish the station.

While Nuyina will deliver supplies and wintering personnel to Australia’s oldest Antarctic station, in 1954, Kista Dan was on a voyage of discovery, searching for a harbour that had only ever been viewed from the air.

On board was Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) Leader, Dr Phil Law, and his team, carrying supplies and equipment to build the station.

After some hair-raising moments, including having to free the ship from crushing ice with crowbars, shovels and dynamite, the vessel entered Horseshoe Harbour.

Two days later, on 13 February 1954, Dr Law raised the Australian flag and officially named the station in honour of great Australian explorer and scientist, Sir Douglas Mawson.

No time was wasted, with science programs getting underway almost immediately.

Australian Antarctic Division Acting Chief Scientist, Dr Aleks Terauds, said Australia’s long tradition of polar science and exploration has prospered ever since.

“Mawson was established in time for the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58, which focused on glaciology, upper atmospheric and cosmic ray physics, meteorology, and gravity and magnetic studies,” Dr Terauds said.

“This geophysical research continues today, and has included many ambitious expeditions to measure the physical characteristics of the Antarctic ice sheet, including to the Prince Charles Mountains, Amery Ice Shelf and Lambert Glacier.

“Mawson is also an important site for biological and ecological research, including the long-term monitoring of penguins and flying seabirds, marine and terrestrial biodiversity research, and krill research.”

The research conducted at Mawson informs a range of bodies, including the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Seabird scientist Dr Louise Emmerson said Mawson was an important site for long-term research and monitoring of Adélie penguins – a key species in the Antarctic terrestrial and marine ecosystem – with the research contributing to ecosystem conservation measures through CCAMLR.

“After 32 years of work, we continue to deepen our understanding about how long these seabirds live for, and what drives the survival of adults, and the fledglings as they navigate the harsh Southern Ocean during their first winter,” she said.

“These long-term programs are rare, but they enable unique ecological insights and are particularly important for sea-ice dependent species at a time when polar regions are undergoing major changes.

“While we have expanded our research to other areas, our Mawson work provides a foundation for comparisons, and for validating methods like our automated camera network, which monitors the penguins year-round.”

More than 60 personnel will travel to Mawson on board Nuyina to resupply and refuel the station.

While Voyage Leader Christine MacMillian will travel in the wake of 70 years of history, she is excited to be in her own uncharted waters, with her first visit to Mawson and her first time on Nuyina.

“It will be a great privilege to take such a capable ship to Mawson as part of the Australian Antarctic Program, following in the footsteps of Phil Law and his team,” Ms MacMillian said.

“Our experience will be quite different to those who sailed on the Kista Dan, given the generational changes in technology and comfort, but I’m exceptionally excited to visit Mawson after seeing and hearing so many amazing things about it.”

During the voyage the ship will also obtain hydrographic data to update navigation charts published by the Australian Hydrographic Office.

Nuyina’s acoustic instruments (its ‘multibeam echosounders’) will be used to collect modern survey data for seafloor mapping – a first for the approaches to Mawson station.