Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012
Outcome 3: Strategies
Australia’s commitment to valuing, protecting and understanding Antarctica was furthered by:
- undertaking research into environmental systems and the effects of global climate change to ensure that management of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is based on sound scientific principles and the best available scientific knowledge
- developing internationally accepted environmental protection measures through the Antarctic Treaty system and advocating for other nations’ agreement to these measures
- developing, implementing and managing practical ways to minimise the effects of our own activities
- restoring past sites of human activities
- helping to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Southern Ocean.
The department participates and leads discussion in key forums, including the:
- Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
- Committee for Environmental Protection
- Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
- Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.
Australia continues to undertake scientific research in accordance with the Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan 2011-12 to 2020-21 for Australia’s Antarctic program. The 2011-12 year was a transition year between the previous Science Strategy and the new Strategic Plan, with all projects undertaken under the previous plan coming to an end this year. A new science application process was undertaken during 2011-12 to select the projects due to commence in 2012-13. The process will guide the Australian Antarctic science program to focus efforts within four thematic areas:
- climate processes and change
- terrestrial and near-shore ecosystems: environmental change and conservation
- Southern Ocean ecosystems: environmental change and conservation
- frontier science.
It also establishes the framework for Australian Antarctic research to which universities, research institutions, the department and other national and international government bodies contribute.
The Australian Antarctic Division developed Strategic Directions 2012-2022, which outlines the work that the division will undertake to support Australia’s Antarctic national interests and implement our responsibilities under both the department’s Strategic plan and sustainability framework.
Oceanographic research undertaken with the Australian Antarctic program is continuing to produce a better understanding of the Southern Ocean Circulation.
This research was carried out by more than 50 scientists on the department’s chartered vessel Aurora Australis, which sailed to Commonwealth Bay as part of the Mawson centenary commemorations. Following the celebrations the Aurora Australis headed west along the Antarctic coast as it returned into Fremantle. This major marine science voyage undertook 95 measurements of the conductivity, temperature and depth of seawater at 77 sampling stations.
This oceanographic research is addressing the role of the Southern Ocean in the world’s climate processes. Given that more than 90 per cent of the extra heat energy stored by the earth over the last 50 years has gone into warming world oceans, it is clearly important to measure the changes that are occurring. The Southern Ocean is particularly important as it stores more heat and carbon dioxide released by human activities than any other ocean, and so helps to slow the rate of climate change.
The results of the voyage show a massive reduction in the amount of Antarctic bottom water (the cold dense water flowing away from Antarctica that drives global ocean currents). Comparing detailed measurements taken during the voyage to historical data dating back to 1970, scientists now estimate there has been as much as a 65 per cent reduction in the volume of Antarctic bottom water. This large reduction has implications which extend far beyond Antarctica because of the global reach of Antarctic water masses. Ongoing research is essential to understand the impacts of these changes.
Case Study 2: Ice core reveals unusual decline in eastern Australian rainfall
Researchers from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) and the department have found evidence from ice cores of a long-term decline in average annual rainfall in eastern Australia. Records reveal that rainfall since about 1920 is below the average of the past 1000 years.
Australia’s instrumental climate records extend back only about 100 years and show an apparent decline in eastern Australian rainfall. However, rainfall in eastern Australia is highly variable and the significance of the decline can only be assessed when compared with a much longer record.
ACE CRC glaciologist Dr Tessa Vance and colleagues from the department and the University of Tasmania have obtained the 1000-year record from ice core data. The research, published in Journal of Climate, shows a direct correlation between the instrumental eastern Australian rainfall record and sea salts deposited by winds at Law Dome in East Antarctica over the past 100 years. The 1000-year-old Law Dome sea salt proxy provides the longest rainfall record yet for eastern Australia.
“The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, climate mode predominantly drives rainfall in eastern Australia and is one of the factors that affects winds in the Southern Ocean,” Dr Vance said.
Unlike many other continents, such as North America and Europe, Australia generally lacks suitable climate proxies (such as tree rings) for rainfall prior to the instrumental record. “We weren’t expecting such a strong correlation between two areas this far apart. Normally proxy records come from the region that you are trying to describe,” Dr Vance said.
The proxy record shows that the dry period since the 1920s is similar to a dry period from 1000-1260 AD. Scientists attribute both dry periods to either stronger or more frequent El Niño events. In El Niño-like years, summertime winds in the Southern Ocean are reduced, leading to lower than average concentrations of salts in the ice core. In La Niña-like years, the opposite occurs, with higher summertime winds causing higher concentrations of salts.
Dr Tas van Ommen leads the Australian Antarctic Division Climate Processes and Change Program and is a co-author on the study. ‘This work builds on a 2010 study from the Australian Antarctic Division which identified other mechanisms linking Antarctica with the drought in Western Australia, and it shows how important Antarctic climate studies are to understanding climate processes in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere,’ he said.
Future research will work towards understanding whether the current dry period had similar climate drivers to the period from 1000-1260 AD. The record will also be extended back another 1000 years, increasing understanding of the Australian climate for the past 2000 years.
Ice core drilling camp after a week-long blizzard, Law Dome, Antarctica. (Joel Pedro)
Program 3.1: Antarctica: Science, Policy and Presence
|Deliver high-priority Australian Antarctic scientific research in accordance with the goals of the Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan 2011-12 to 2020-21.||Achieved.
The Australian Antarctic science program undertook a total of 97 science projects from 27 institutions, involving collaboration with a further 244 institutions from 37 countries. It supported 112 higher degree students, including 76 PhD students.
|Protect the Antarctic environment and undertake work of practical, economic and international significance, including compliance with all Australian Antarctic environmental legislation.||Achieved.|
|Pursue Australia’s Antarctic policy objectives through participation in the Antarctic Treaty system and related forums, including meetings of the:
The department advanced Australian interests through the Antarctic Treaty system and related forums, as listed in the key performance indicator table (p 124).
|Administer the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands, including the authorisation and management of Australian activities in accordance with relevant legislation and environmental protection measures.||Achieved.
The territories were administered in accordance with relevant legislation and environment protection measures.
|Maintain three stations in the Australian Antarctic Territory and one station in the sub-Antarctic, these being:
The 4 permanent research stations were maintained, providing a permanent presence and support for research.
|Operate a transport and logistics network using shipping and air services to:
A total of 201 shipping days supported Australia’s Antarctic program. The shipping schedule included a major marine science voyage and a dedicated voyage in support of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program.
A total of 7 intercontinental flights were conducted in support of Australia’s Antarctic program. This included scheduled flights between Hobart and Wilkins Aerodrome, one unscheduled medical evacuation flight to repatriate an injured expeditioner, and two flights positioning Australian expeditioners at the US McMurdo Station before travelling to Casey on US transport or fixed-wing aircraft chartered by the department.
10 further intercontinental flights were undertaken under the Antarctic Airlink program to transfer passengers to Casey Station and other Antarctic destinations via the ice runway at McMurdo.
A total of 36 science projects sent field personnel to Antarctica, eight projects went to Macquarie Island and 10 marine science projects were undertaken.
|Participation in key Antarctic Treaty-related forums [% attended].||100||100|
|Scientists active in Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic and the Southern Ocean during the financial year [#].||90||124|
|Permanent stations operated, maintained and resupplied [#].||4||4|
|Shipping days in support of Australia’s Antarctic program [#].||180||201
The shipping schedule was extended to include a mid-season voyage to Commonwealth Bay for commemoration of the Mawson centenary and to conduct a marine science program in a region not frequently visited.
|Flights between Hobart and Casey stations [# of return flights].||15||5
A reduced program of flying operations was planned as warmer weather conditions, which have limited runway operations in recent years, were expected to continue this summer. This proved to be the case, with the runway closed from late December to late January.
|Key performance indicators||2011-12 results|
|Internationally recognised scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean will be measured by the number of published scientific papers and the number of international institutions collaborating in the Australian Antarctic program.||During the 2011 calendar year, 237 publications were produced within the Australian Antarctic science program. Of these, 147 were published in peer-reviewed international literature and 11 contributed to supporting Australia’s position in key policy forums such as the Antarctic Treaty, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and the International Whaling Commission. The department has met this key performance indicator since 2009-10.|
|Enhanced Australian influence in the Antarctic Treaty system, including through participation in its various forums as measured by the extent to which Australia’s objectives are achieved and the number of senior positions (e.g. Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson) held by Australia.||In 2011-12 Australia continued to enhance its position within the Antarctic Treaty system by active participation in its various elements. Between 11 and 20 June 2012, Australia hosted the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart. At this meeting Australia played a key role in leading the adoption of a number of initiatives promoting improved environmental protection for Antarctica, including on establishing protected areas, clean-up of sites of past activities, and prevention of non-native species. The department has met this key performance indicator since 2009-10.|
|Australia’s Antarctic program complies with all Australian Antarctic environmental legislation. The program’s target is 100% compliance.||The department met this key performance indicator in 2011-12.|
|Effective shipping and air services as measured by the combined number of expeditioners and the volume of cargo transported during the year.||There were 345 expeditioners this year, representing 98.6% of the KPI target. 7 voyages were undertaken this season, including a voyage to Commonwealth Bay (Mawson’s Huts), a major marine science program, and a dedicated voyage in support of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program. 5 direct flights from Hobart to Wilkins were conducted this season. This included an unscheduled flight to undertake a medical evacuation in early December. The A319 aircraft conducted two flights to McMurdo Station. 8 flights were undertaken on behalf of the USAP and Italian programs in return for in-kind support. The department has met the volume of cargo key performance indicator since 2010-11.|
|Operate permanent stations as a demonstration of Australia’s continued presence and commitment. The level of utilisation (measured by the number of expeditioners and occupied bed nights) is an indicator of the program’s performance in maintaining Australia’s presence.||The four permanent research stations were operated, maintained and developed. The department has met the bed nights key performance indicator since 2010-11, and reached 98.6% of the expeditioners key performance indicator target this year.|
|Key performance indicators||2011-12 budget target||2011-12 results||2010-11||2009-10|
|Scientific publications produced in previous calendar year [#].||200||237||257||245|
|International institutions collaborating in the Australian Antarctic program [#].||150||244 institutions from 37 countries.||244||187|
|Senior positions held on Antarctic Treaty related organisations [#].||2||3||2||4|
|Number of expeditioners transported to Australia’s Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic stations (round trips) [#].||350||345||386||337|
|Australian Antarctic program compliance with Antarctic environmental protection legislation [%].||100||100||95||100|
|Volume of cargo transported to Australia’s Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic stations [cubic metres].||10 000||10 341||12 200||6852|
|Station utilisation [# of occupied bed nights].||40 000||51 520
The increase in bed nights is a result of the effort, across both summer and winter, involved in the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program