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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Review of performance: Outcome 2 - Antarctica (continued)

Undertaking practical and significant scientific research

The Department provides data and support for Australian and international collaborators and conducts physical, biological and medical research.

In 2003-04, the Department supported research with benefits for:

The Australian Antarctic Division contributed to this output.

Scientific research

Objective

To support practical and significant Antarctic scientific research.

Australian science has driven the development of many new technologies, often with a practical pay-off. Antarctica's remote and hostile environment presents opportunities for technological innovation, which may have a commercial or practical application to the wider community. Research results are presented at national and international forums and data is shared with collaborators.

Activities
New strategic plan

The five-year Antarctic Science Strategic Plan concluded during 2003-04. After thorough external evaluation by the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee and widespread consultation with the science community, the Department released a new five-year Antarctic science strategy in May 2004.

Fisheries management

An internally weighted fishing line developed by researchers working for the Department was assessed against its effectiveness to reduce seabird by-catch without affecting fishing success. Results will be presented at the 2004 Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meeting.

Work continued on the development of ecosystem models. A new modelling approach was developed and is being presented to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. A large scale predator-prey and marine science experiment around Heard Island was conducted during the summer of 2003-04. It will form the basis of data used to develop analytical software to assess the status of the Heard Island food web in relation to fished species.

The Department continued to work with the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to review the commission's Ecosystem Modelling Programme, which aims to improve the power of ecosystem assessment methods to detect change caused by fisheries.

Whale abundance estimates

A new whale acoustics programme commenced. This aims to use passive acoustic techniques to measure the distribution and relative abundance of whales in the Southern Ocean.

Pharmacology and biotechnology

Animals and plants that have evolved in the unique and harsh environment have biological attributes that potentially have commercial importance. The pharmacological potential of micro-organisms and the food and horticultural potential of sub-Antarctic plants are being investigated by scientists working for the Department in an ongoing programme.

Several organisations participating in the Australian Antarctic programme are investigating the biotechnological potential of Antarctic organisms. Antarctic bacteria produce a wide range of exopolymer types, with the high molecular weight types having biotechnological potential.

Navigation

The Australian Antarctic Science programme maintained records of sea ice conditions, iceberg distributions, and other relevant parameters for use in Antarctic navigation and planning. The Department operates an extensive network of automatic weather stations on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet and has provided data from these back to 1984.

Sea ice and iceberg observations are routinely made on most voyages, and contribute to long-term databases. The extent, inter-annual variability and an estimate of the total volume of land-fast sea ice forming around East Antarctica was determined using satellite radar imagery.

Living in harsh environments

Human biological research in the Antarctic, linked as it is with health care, is designed not only to improve the efficiency of people in Antarctic operations but to help plan activities in other remote and extreme environments. The Department's epidemiological studies continue to inform, support and optimise provision of medical care in the extreme environments of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The Department's Australian Antarctic Division also has a collaborative agreement with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration to gather data over a long period on aspects of human physiology in the Antarctic. The problems faced by people in Antarctica, relating to isolation and living in confined environments for long periods, are similar to those experienced by people on extended space journeys.

Fundamental research continued into the effects of immunological, psychological and behavioural stressors on human health and wellbeing in Antarctica. Preliminary results of long-term, small group psychological studies and thermal physiology and modelling studies of wintering Antarctic expeditions suggest both individual and group psychological and physiological adaptive responses.

New studies commenced including detailed photobiology study of bone loss among wintering expeditioners. Studies in psychological resilience and reintegration on return from Antarctica and telehealth applications are in the preparatory phase.

Waste management

Scientists from the Department's Human Impacts programme are providing practical solutions to the difficult problems of how to remediate contaminated sites and remove abandoned waste disposal sites from Antarctica without creating additional environmental impacts.

New water treatment technologies designed for use in cold, remote locations were used to reduce off-site migration of contaminants during excavation of waste from the Thala Valley tip.

Environmental monitoring of the Thala Valley clean-up by human impacts scientists was designed to monitor whether the clean-up created additional adverse impacts.

Experiments on the in situ bioremediation of spilt fuel in Antarctica indicate that microbial breakdown can be significantly enhanced by relatively minor changes to water and nutrient availability. This has the potential to provide significant savings for contaminated sites remediation in the future.

Space weather prediction

Data collected through the Space and Atmospheric Science Programme is shared with other national and international researchers and is helping to improve space weather monitoring and predictions.

Radio transmission properties of the atmosphere, together with optical measurements of the Aurora Australis (southern lights) and measurements of the earth's magnetic field, were forwarded in real time from all Australian stations to the Ionospheric Prediction Service for its space weather monitoring and forecasts of southern regions.

A new automated Fabry Perot spectrometer was installed and commissioned at Davis station to further enhance data input into model development of the upper middle atmosphere circulation.

Three cosmic ray ground level enhancements were recorded in quick succession in late October and early November 2003. The second of these also included radiation dose measurements made at aircraft altitudes during a Qantas flight over north America in a collaborative study with researchers working for the Department. This is believed to be the first such measurements and will prove invaluable in reconciling the model passenger and crew dose calculations with observations. The present models are known to be crude, and detailed studies are being undertaken to include the ground level enhancements models developed locally into the dose calculations.

An improved cosmic ray spectrum has been deduced as a result of the annual cosmic ray latitude surveys. This will result in a better determination of the contribution made to natural annual radiation dosage arising from cosmic rays and how this varies with latitude, longitude and altitude. The cosmic ray data are now provided to both the Space Ship Earth consortium and to the international space weather warning and prediction centre. Data are lodged with these groups with a one minute time resolution within about 20 seconds of collection at Mawson.

Data management

The Department's Australian Antarctic Data Centre is an international leader in the development and use of national and international data management standards and, in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, all scientific data are made publicly available after a period of exclusive use.

The Australian Antarctic Data Centre, which is responsible for maintaining Antarctic scientific data, currently has 1712 metadata records, all of which are available through the Australian Spatial Data Infructure and the Antarctic Master Directory. The centre is currently developing and maintaining 58 separate, but linked databases. All scientific and mapping data is publicly discoverable and downloadable on the Internet.

The Australian Antarctic Data Centre generated 47 new maps covering the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands. Forty-two of these can be viewed via the Internet. Applications for these maps include support for the new air transport system as well as policy development, environmental protection, navigation, scientific research and search and rescue.

Result

Investigation of the biotechnological potential of Antarctic microorganisms continued.

Extensive oceanographic data collected during the simultaneous land-sea research programme on the marine food web around Heard Island provided insights into why some areas are more productive than others.

New technologies developed by Australian scientists were used during the clean up of the Thala Valley waste tip to control the dispersion of contaminants from the site. Their success was confirmed using environmental monitoring techniques not previously attempted in Antarctica.

Report on performance information

Tables 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63 and 64 report performance results against the indicators in the 2003-04 portfolio budget statements.

Table 57: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Antarctic Marine Living Resources (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Develop management procedures for finfish and krill fisheries.' The Department developed an internally weighted fishing line, which reduces seabird by-catch. The line has been incorporated into the Heard Island fishery and is planned for incorporation into the Ross Sea fishery.
'Develop acoustic methodologies for use in the assessment of krill and other pelagic species.'

'Develop guidelines for marine protection areas.'

'Provide practical advice to industry, national agencies and Government on marine living resources.'
A predator-prey marine science experiment around Heard Island 2003-04 will be used to develop analytical software to assess the status of the Heard Island food web in relation to fished species.
'Develop analytical software to assess the status of the food web relative to fished species.'

'Develop preliminary ecosystem assessment methods.'
A new ecosystem modelling approach has been developed and will be presented to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in 2004.
Table 58: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Biology (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Initiate alliances with organisations to share collection and data for bioactive molecule discovery.'

'Initiate research into biotechnical potential of exopolymers.'

'Identify potentially commercially important organisms.'
Several organisations participating in the Australian Antarctic programme are investigating the biotechnological potential of Antarctic organisms.
Table 59: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Geoscience
Performance information Result
'Collect GPS [global positioning system], VLBI [very long baseline interferometry] and geophysical data at the ANARE [Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition] stations and selected points.

Conduct geophysical airborne reconnaissance survey over the AAT [Australian Antarctic Territory].'
Global positioning system and geophysical data were collected from Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition stations and remote sites in the Grove and Prince Charles Mountains. Airborne geophysical survey data from the Southern Prince Charles Mountains in 2002-03 is being processed and published. The very long baseline interferometry was abandoned as a geodetic technique for Antarctic stations because of high cost.
Table 60: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Glaciology (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Maintain records of sea ice conditions, iceberg distributions, and other relevant parameters for use in Antarctic navigation and planning.'

'Collect data on snow and ice conditions that will contribute to the selection of a runway site for intercontinental air transport.'
Records of sea ice conditions, iceberg distribution and other relevant parameters were maintained. The Department operated an extensive network of automatic weather stations on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet.
Table 61: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Human biology and medicine (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Continue research into the effects of immunological, thermophysiological, psychological and behavioural stressors, and the effects of UV [ultraviolet] radiation on health of Antarctic personnel in the totally isolated groups in Antarctica.' Research continued, including collaborative work with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Table 62: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Meteorological science (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Develop a sea ice analysis system.' The development of a sea ice analysis and forecasting system is awaiting relevant staff for the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre, although work began on implementing an automated ice-cloud discrimination system at Casey station.
'Implement an operational weather forecasting high-resolution Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) model to cover the Antarctic region including the sea-ice zone.'

'Improve modelling relevant to Antarctica to enable 'tuning' of the Antarctic Limited Area Model and Global NWP [Numerical Weather Prediction] model.'

'Commence development of an Australian operational sea-ice forecasting system.'

'Investigate and implement better use in Australian systems of existing Antarctic remotely sensed data.'

'Upgrade the NOAA [United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Ground Station at Casey in support of intercontinental air transport.'

'Contribute to on-going re-analysis processes as techniques and data sources become of higher quality and more numerous.'

'Publish further Antarctic working papers.'
A weather forecasting Numerical Weather Prediction model to cover the Antarctic region, including the sea ice zone, was developed and work on implementation is proceeding.
'Produce hardcopy of The International Antarctic Weather Forecasting Handbook.' The International Antarctic Weather Forecasting Handbook was produced.
Table 63: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Space and atmospheric sciences (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Utilisation of ionosonde, geomagnetic, GPS [global positioning system], riometer and optical data from all Australian Antarctic stations to provide space weather data.'

'Provide Tasman International Geospace Environment Radar (TIGER) and FedSat data to facilitate studies of upper atmosphere space weather research.'

'Develop ultra-low frequency hydromagnetic wave techniques to monitor high variability in Sun-Earth connections.'
Tasman International Geospace Environment Radar and FedSat data were made widely available for research into space weather effects.
'Continue Fabry Perot Spectrometer (FPS) thermospheric 630 nanometre observations at Davis, and enhance middle atmosphere circulation models.'

'Develop automated instrumentation.'
A new Fabry Perot spectrometer was installed and commissioned at Davis station.
'Continue development of cosmic ray Ground Level Enhancement (GLE) models.' Three cosmic ray ground level enhancements were recorded in quick succession in late October and early November 2003.
'Enhance accurate forecasting capability of high frequency radio communication between Australia and Antarctica.'

'Undertake annual austral summer cosmic ray latitude surveys.'

'Provide real-time geophysical data of practical importance for use by international science.'

'Automate 'Space Ship Earth' consortium real-time data for space weather prediction.'
Cosmic ray data is now provided to both the Space Ship Earth consortium and the international space weather warning and predication centre.
Table 64: To undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Australian Antarctic Data Centre (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Maintain and develop the Australian Antarctic Data Centre as the leading depository for Antarctic scientific and other data.'

'Collate and store all relevant data collected by Australian researchers in Antarctica, and provide access to authorised researchers.'

'Ensure compliance with departmental and national standards for management of scientific data and geographical information.'
The Australian Antarctic Data Centre is currently developing and managing 58 separate and linked databases. All scientific and mapping data is publicly discoverable and downloadable on the Internet.
'Produce aeronautical charts in support of an air transport system.' The centre has generated 47 new maps covering the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands. Forty-two of these can be viewed on the Internet.
'Prepare hydrographic data acquired for charts of approaches to Mawson.' The centre coordinated survey work by the Naval Hydrographic Office on the western approaches to Mawson station as the basis for a new chart.
Table 65: Pricing information for Tables 57 to 64(a)
Appropriation Estimated price Revised price Actual expenses
Undertake scientific work of practical, economic or national significance - Output 2.3 (departmental) $17.311 million $17.901 million $17.733 million

(a) See also the summary resource tables at the end of this 'Review of performance'.

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