Dr Petra Heil: VorDipl (Phys, Oceanogr), Dipl (Phys), PhD

Research interests

I’ve had the privilege to spend my academic education and career exclusively in climate science. Hailing from the south of Germany, I set out to study Physical and Theoretical Oceanography (which then was only offered by the country’s two northern universities near the coast), before broadening my studies to obtain a degree in Physics. Inspired by polar science during a winter expedition aboard RV Polarstern into the Weddell Sea - and a Fellowship to CalTex and JPL (USA) to model sea-ice growth - I undertook a PhD at the University of Tasmania. Upon completion, I was sponsored to overwinter at Davis Station to study the near-coastal fast ice and its interaction with ocean and atmosphere. This was followed by more than two years of post-doctoral work at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where I worked with Professor Bill Hibler to research the numerical embedding of sea ice within the upper ocean, with the aim of simulating high-frequency sea-ice motion.

Returning to Australia, I worked at the Tasmanian Partnership for Advanced Computing before joining the Australian Antarctic Division as a sea ice scientist with a focus on numerical modelling. Over the years working at AAD and as an associate researcher at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC at the University of Tasmania, my research evolved to take in several aspects of sea ice science including coupled ocean/ice/atmosphere modelling, field work, autonomous instrumentation, or remote sensing. My research has provided me with a joint or lead role in a range of national and international projects and teams, and has earned me a range of steering, advisory, editorial or leadership roles. In early 2020 I was appointed co-theme leader in the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership at the University of Tasmania, where I remain a research associate.

Current projects

Australian Antarctic Science Program:

  • Precipitation over Land and the Southern Ocean (PLATO) (AAS #4387)
  • Physical drivers of ice algal biomass and characterisation of under ice habitats in the Antarctic pack ice zone (AAS #4408)
  • Drift of the Antarctic ice edge (AAS #4434)
  • Airborne sea ice thickness: Synoptic Springtime assessment (AAS #4496)
  • Observatory of East Antarctic near-surface atmosphere and cryosphere (AAS #4506)
  • Modelling Sea Ice at High Resolution (AAS #4541)
  • Integrated observations of Antarctic land-fast sea ice physical and biological processes during the Spring transition (AAS #4546)
  • Metocean Dynamics of the Antarctic Marginal Ice Zone, Observations and Modelling, with End User Implementation (AAS #4593)

International/national collaborations

  • AAPP, UTAS, ANU, UniMelb, UNSW, Adelaide University, CSIRO, Monash University
  • AWI, ESA, NASA, DRL, MetNo, SFL, WMO, plus several international universities, including in New Zealand, China, Germany, South Africa, USA, Canada and the UK
  • ASPeCt and AFIN (SCAR (expert) groups)
  • Australian delegate (Cryo) to the World Meteorological Organisation [WMO]
  • Team Leader, International Space Science Institute (Switzerland)
  • Team Lead, Global Cryosphere Watch (WMO)
  • Member, Surface Flux Team (WCRP Data Advisory Council)
  • Chair, International Programme for Antarctic Buoys & Member, Drifting Buoy Cooperation Panel (WMO)
  • Australian correspondent to the International Glaciological Society (IGS)
  • Editor, The Cryosphere
  • Associate Editor, Frontiers in Earth Science: Cryospheric Sciences
  • Deployed scientist, STEM Professionals in Schools program, CSIRO

Key outcome areas

  • CryoNet
  • ESA/NASA Science Programmes
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Related links

Improved treatment of ice-ocean interactions enhances climate modelling, Australian Antarctic Magazine 9: 10, 2005.

Sea ice tops it off, Australian Antarctic Magazine 26: 14 – 15, 2014.

Sea ice in a changing environment, IGS Magazine, 17-- 24, 2014.



Selected recent publications (2019 & 2020):

Alberello, A., L. Bennetts, P. Heil, C. Ayers, M. Vichi, K. MacHutchon, and A. Toffoli, Drift of pancake ice floes in the winter Antarctic marginal ice zone during polar cyclones, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2019JC015418, 2020.

Kiss, A.E., A.McC. Hogg, N. Hanna, F. Boeira Dias, G. Brassington, M.A. Chamberlain, C. Chapman, P. Dobrohotoff, C.M. Domingues, E.R. Duran, M.H. England, R. Fielder, S.M. Griffies, A. Heerdegen, P. Heil, R.M. Holmes, A. Klocker, S.J. Marsland, A.K. Morrison, J. Munroe, P.R. Oke, M. Nikurashin, G.S. Pilo, O. Richet, A. Savita, P. Spence, K.D. Stewart, M.L. Ward, F. Wu, and X. Zhang, ACCESS-OM2: A Global Ocean-Sea Ice Model at Three Resolutions, Geosci. Model Dev. Discuss., doi:10.5194/gmd-13-401-2020. 2020.

Lei, R., D. Gui, J.K. Hutchings, P. Heil, and N. Li, Annual cycles of sea ice motion and deformation derived from buoy measurements in the western Arctic Ocean over two ice seasons, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2019JC015310, 2020.

Ding, M., A. Agrawal, P. Heil, and D. Yang, Surface Energy Balance on the Antarctic Plateau as measured with automatic weather station during 2014, Adv. Polar Sc., 30(2), 93 – 105, doi: 10.13679/j.advps.2018.0050, 2019.

Lei, R., D. Gui, P. Heil, J.K. Hutchings, and M. Ding, Comparison of sea ice motion and deformation, and their responses to ice conditions and cyclone activity in the western Arctic Ocean between two summers, Cold Reg. Science and Technol., doi: 10.1016/j.coldregions.2019.102925, 2019. [4301,4390]

Li, X., L. Ouyang, F. Hui, X. Cheng, M. Shokr, and P. Heil, An improved automated method to detect landfast ice edge off Zhongshan Station using SAR imagery, IEEE Rem. Sens., 4737 – 4746, doi:10.1109/JSTARS.2018.2882602, 2019.

Newman, L., P. Heil, R. Trebilco, and 37 others, Delivering Sustained, Coordinated and Integrated Observations of the Southern Ocean for Global Impact, Frontiers/Marine Sc., 6 (433), doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00433, 2019.