Antarctic video gallery

Fuel munching microbes clean up Antarctica

Fuel munching microbes clean up Antarctica

Video transcript

These are microscopic secret weapons. Native Antarctic microbes are being used to clean up contaminated soil.

Remediation Manager, Tim Spedding; “We manage the soil condition so that those microorganisms can do the best job and be the most effective at using that fuel as a food source and they break down that fuel and ultimately clean up that soil.”

Scientists at Australia’s Casey station have built a luxury dirt ‘hotel’ to boost the microbes appetite.

The ‘mega-pile’ is the largest bioremediation construction in Antarctica. The size of an Olympic swimming pool, it can hold 750 cubic metres of soil.

Remediation Engineer, Rebecca McWatters; “It includes a really thick protection layer made up of a variety of barrier materials. We have a clay liner, we have is a high-density polyethylene welded plastic layer, we have protective textiles and then we have soil.”

The conditions are continually tweaked to be perfect for the fuel-munching microbes.

Remediation Manager, Tim Spedding; “So a few degrees above zero, higher moisture content, maybe 10%, 12% water and a lot more oxygen.”

This will greatly increase the aeration of the soil and hopefully the soil will be able to be rehabilitated quicker. Less than 0.05% of the Antarctic continent is ice-free, so all the soil is precious.

Remediation Manager, Tim Spedding; “We want as many nations as possible to adopt what we are using.”

[end transcript]

Nuclear Watchdog

Nuclear Watchdog

Video transcript

Australia’s Mawson research station in east Antarctica

Inside this ordinary-looking shipping container is a crucial part of the global network that polices a ban on nuclear testing

SANDRA SDRAULIG, RADIOCHEMIST, ARPANSA:

The CTBTO stands for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation. The purpose of that organisation is to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions.

One of 80 stations around the world, this sampler ‘sniffs’ the wind for tell-tale radioactive particles

DAVE DAVIES, DEPUTY STATION LEADER, MAWSON:

On a daily basis we check the air sampling that’s done here. So, there’s a filter that’s changed every day that actually senses the atmosphere for contaminants that would indicate some sort of nuclear activity.

The high volume air sampler catches airborne particles on filter paper

SANDRA SDRAULIG:

They do occur naturally and in this monitoring station we will see some naturally occurring radionuclides. Others that are non-naturally occurring can be there as a result of a nuclear explosion or some other process.

The filter is compressed into a disc, for analysis and storage

SANDRA SDRAULIG:

Finally the filter is placed on a gamma spectrometer where it’s analysed. A computer monitors the work flow, collects the data which is then transmitted to Vienna via satellite to the international data centre.

ARPANSA relies on expeditioners to run the sampling during the year

DAVE DAVIES:

A lot of things I've done down here that you’d never get the opportunity anywhere else, and, yeah, that’s what makes it exciting. It’s why I like the job. The day is never the same and there is always something challenging to try your hand at.

(ARPANSA=Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency)

[end transcript]

Marine surveys

Marine surveys

Video transcript

DR GLENN JOHNSTONE, APPLIED BENTHIC BIOLOGIST, AAD:

We're standing on sea ice, about a metre, 1.7 metres thick and underneath is probably 20 metres of water before we hit the sea floor.

DR JONNY STARK, MARINE ECOLOGIST, AAD

We are here doing some environmental surveys for the Davis aerodrome project, so we're doing marine environmental surveys all around the Vestfold Hills which is a largely unexplored area.

These marine scientists are using a small submarine to explore an unknown underwater world

DR JONNY STARK:

We've got onboard cameras, we've got laser scalers to measure the size of things on the seabed.

What they find builds a picture of the biodiversity around the site of the proposed runway

DR JONNY STARK:

All right so we've got polychaete reef here mate.

DR GLENN JOHNSTONE:

All of those different kinds of organisms you’d normally see on a reef in Tasmania or southern Australia, they're here, they're in different communities, different sizes, colours, shapes and there’s a obviously a lot of them here and not found elsewhere, they're endemic to Antarctica — all of the organisms here are endemic to Antarctica.

They find stony reefs several kilometres long, made by polychaete worms

DR JONNY STARK:

They stretch from the surface down to 30 metres, much like coral does really. They're amazing, they're real biodiversity hotspots, they're just crawling with life. I reckon there must be billions of sea urchins in Ellis Fjord. Everywhere you look there’s a sea urchin, crawling over the polychaetes, all over the rocky habitats, everywhere.

DR GLENN JOHNSTONE:

That’s one of the biggest excitements, is that we're popping this thing down, through sea ice and we don’t know what we're going to find and we do know that nobody’s ever been to this site before, so we know that when we do see it, we're the first people to see it.

DR JONNY STARK:

You're like explorers, you know, the first people to look in these places properly and document what’s here. The fjords particularly around Davis, they're really extensive and we know barely anything about them.

[end transcript]

Layered lakes in the Vestfold Hills

Layered lakes in the Vestfold Hills

Video transcript

In Antarctica, biodiversity is greatest in the ice-free areas where animals and plants can live.

The Vestfold Hills is one of Antarctica’s most biodiverse regions.

An area near Davis research station is being assessed as the site for a new aerodrome.

Dr Catherine King, ecotoxicologist, Australian Antarctic Division
“So this is one of our lake transect sites. You see this lake right here? That’s one of our sampling sites. And what we’re doing in this program is looking at biodiversity across this region.”

Scientists are studying the lakes around the proposed site in unprecedented detail.

Dr Catherine King
”Importantly at Davis we have very complex lake systems and over 300 lakes of varying sizes, from small metres-squared up to several kilometres long. And the lakes in the Davis region are particularly unique because we have a range of freshwater lakes, as you’d expect, but also hypersaline or super salty lakes.”

Comparing the water and the soil between lakes will show if they are connected.

Dr Catherine King
“Our program out here is looking at a range of lakes of different sizes, different salinities. Looking at the biological communities and how diverse they are. And whether there’s any connectivity or differences between those lakes.”

Samples will be analysed in the lab for their DNA to reveal the full range of microscopic life-forms

Dr Catherine King
“That will give us a really good idea of the complexity of the communities, and whether they are similar to pockets of communities that we see elsewhere in the Vestfold Hills.”

[end transcript]

Biodiversity survey

Biodiversity survey

Video transcript

Terrestrial biodiversity survey, Davis Aerodrome Project

Ecologists are searching for life in the rocky desert around Davis research station.

Dana Bergstrom, Australian Antarctic Division Ecologist “It looks very Mars-like, doesn’t it? It certainly feels like we’re in another planet, walking around this very, very abstract landscape of big boulders that have been ripped apart by thousands of years of wind.”

Dana Bergstrom “Antarctica is the end of the planetary spectrum for life. And here we’re in a very saline, desert area and as we’re still finding life. And that’s what really excites me.”

Their survey for the Davis aerodrome project is mapping where life exists.

Dana Bergstrom “So what we’re doing is we’ve modelled back in Australia the landscape, the terrain. And we found that there are ten habitat types. And what we have is a series of random points in each of those ten habitats that we need to go and visit and survey for vegetation.”

Dana Bergstrom “So by going to random points and recording what’s there, we know there there’s life or no life.”

The scientists have developed a high-tech app to guide their survey and record data from each site.

Dana Bergstrom “We have 2000 on our map. No way we’re going to get near to 2000. But we hope to go between 500 and 1000 sites.”

Dana Bergstrom “This area has been under sea in the Holocene. That’s about the last 6000 years ago. And so there’s still salt deposits here. But even in this desert, we still find life. But it’s hidden. It’s cryptic. And the place we find it, is under quartz rocks. And the reason why the quartz works but not other rocks is that light can filter through it. And here under the base you can see this amazing emerald green algae that’s growing on the rock. So the remarkable thing is that what we’re finding is that half a metre away it can be really, really salty. But under this rock is a place for life.”

[end transcript]

Site selection of proposed aerodrome

Nuyina’s first spin

Nuyina’s first spin

Video transcript

ROB BRYSON: Which is about testing the propulsion system of the ship. So this is the very first stage of that.

So what we did in the beginning of this milestone is we rotated the propeller for about four revolutions over a period of about two minutes, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you think about it, the advanced electric drive was turning about 120 tonnes of high tensile steel. So that includes 43.5 tonnes of propeller plus another 80 tonnes of shaft lines.

The propulsion system is the beating heart of the vessel. That’s what actually provides the forward movement of the vessel and the power, so without a propulsion system you don’t really have a ship, and it’s just a static dumb barge. So having that working is a significant event for us and provides a lot of power for Nuyina and she’ll probably be the most powerful icebreaker in Antarctica when she goes online at the end of this year.

[end transcript]

Life’s a Béche

Life’s a Béche

Video transcript

Just a few kilometres from Mawson research station…

…Béchervaise Island could be on another planet

Kim Kliska, Field biologist “Yes, Béchervaise does look like — a bit like a space station on Mars. The Googies behind us are our living and our workspace, so there’s only three of those. So very limited space, and if the weather’s bad that’s all we have, really, compared to the station — it’s quite different.”

Marcus Salton, Field biologist “While we’re out here on Béchervaise Island on our own, it’s quite peaceful aside from the noises of the penguins.

Biologists live on the island during summer to study seabirds

The Adélie penguin population here has been monitored for decades

Marcus “It’s a long standing program, been going for 30 years and it is quite unusual and quite unique. It’s because it’s about the life span of a penguin so we can start to look at things happening through time such as changes in their breeding success and how that’s linked with changes in their environment.”

Kim “Penguins are an indicator species, so we use the Adélies here to look at how much krill is in the local ecosystem, and that’s really important. We have these weighbridge systems, and as the penguins come and go we get the weights as they’re coming in and as they’re going out, so we can look at how much krill they’re actually feeding their chicks.”

Automatic cameras take photos every day throughout the year

Marcus “From those photos we can look at when the penguins are arriving, when they’re departing and how many eggs are laid and how many chicks are produced.”

Counts show that 1500 breeding pairs live here, out of a regional population of 80,000 pairs

Kim “Studying penguins is really glamorous! They’re quite smelly, so living here — we live out here for a few weeks — and yes, you become really used to the smell, to the point where you don’t notice it. Yes, they’re just fascinating. It is an amazing job.”

[end transcript]

Precision Airdrop

Precision Airdrop

Video transcript

This RAAF mission to Casey station is testing new ways to resupply from the air.

Matt Filipowski, Australian Antarctic Division “The addition of low-cost chutes and precision-guided chutes is a first as we understand it, so we’re certainly for Antarctica leading the game in that space.”

WGCDR Dion Wright, RAAF Australian Southern Contingent “It offers an amazing capability, particularly a precision capability, that hasn’t been available to the Australian Antarctic Program before.”

Low-cost parachutes are cheaper and easier to recover than standard ones.

Dion Wright “They’re designed to be disposable but they can be reused again once they’re brought back.”

From 750 feet, the low-cost parachutes land the cargo accurately and intact.

From much higher altitudes, the precision system uses GPS to guide the parachute to a designated target.

Matt Filipowski “The parachute is a traditional type of parachute but it’s actually controlled by a machine that guides and pulls on the risers, as they’re called, to actually steer the parachute. It does the job of what a human usually does underneath a guided parachute.”

You can hear the guidance motors steering the parachute.

From an altitude of 10,000 feet, it lands within 30 metres of the target.

Matt Filipowski “That gives us a number of advantages — we can be further away from wildlife or completely removed, so reducing noise.”

This will be used for resupplying inland convoys or remote camps.

Dion Wright “It will enhance the ability for the ADF to contribute to Australia’s Antarctic Program, it’ll enable us to throw things out of the back of the aircraft with these systems, at the right time and the right way in a safe and efficient manner.”

[end transcript]

Australia’s proposed Antarctic aerodrome open for comment

Australia’s proposed Antarctic aerodrome open for comment

Video transcript

The initial proposal for a new aerodrome in Antarctica is now publicly available.

Kim Ellis, Director, Australian Antarctic Division In 2016, the Australian Government launched a strategy and action plan for Antarctica and this sets a new era and a new standard for Australia’s engagement in Antarctica.

Kim Ellis “It also foreshadowed the work to develop a paved aerodrome at Davis Station.”

The proposed aerodrome will enable more ambitious science

It will provide year-round access and improve emergency response.

Kim Ellis “It will transform the science we’re able to deliver in Antarctica. At the moment we’re constrained by a very narrow summer window to get our logistics in and out and our scientists work is limited by that operational window.”

The proposal includes a 2,700m long runway, aircraft apron, and buildings.

Scientists have been on the ground for several years to build an understanding of the site.

The project will have a high level of environmental scrutiny, nationally and internationally.

Kim Ellis “There will undoubtedly be some environmental impacts and the process we’re going through now will ensure those impacts are minimised and mitigated where possible through alternative construction methodology or changes to the design and operation of the airfield.”

Kim Ellis “Over the 60 years that Australia has been involved in Antarctica we’ve set a very high benchmark for all our activities and operations and this project is no exception.”

[end transcript]