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Publications archive - Annual reports

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 1999-2000

Environment Australia, 2000
ISBN 0642450420
ISSN 1441-9335

Outcome 3 - Antarctica

Vision

That Antarctica is valued, protected and understood

Mission

To advance Australia's antarctic interests

The Australian Antarctic Division is responsible for:

Australia's interests in Antarctica are advanced

Focusing on Four Outputs:

Administering the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands

Administering Antarctic Science Grants

Maintaining the Antarctic Treaty system and enhancing Australia's influence on it

Objective

Negotiate positions in international forums based on well researched policy proposals. The aims are to enhance Australia's influence in the Antarctic Treaty system and to have Australia's position adopted in the decisions of the Antarctic Treaty partners. The AAD seeks to produce high standard research proposals and reports for international forums.

Result

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) develops and promotes Australia's policies on Antarctica. These are implemented through the forums of the Antarctic Treaty system: the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the Committee for Environmental Protection, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes, the Standing Committee on Antarctic Logistics and Operations, and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

The AAD contributed to policy that advances protection of the antarctic environment and ecologically sustainable use of the region's resources, including the marine living resources, and the use of Antarctica for tourism.

At the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, Australia was instrumental in progressing negotiations aimed at developing rules on liability for environmental damage in the Antarctic. Comprehensive delegation briefings were provided for meetings of all forums of the Antarctic Treaty system. The Australian Antarctic Division provided leadership in forums discussing the future monitoring and management of non-governmental activities in the Antarctic so that the evolution of tourism and adventure activities continue to comply with environmental and safety requirements.

Information was provided to support decisions of the Antarctic Treaty system organisations, notably the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and the Committee for Environmental Protection. A large body of research papers provided support for decisions of Antarctic Treaty organisations.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty entered into force in 1998. The Australian Antarctic Division has ensured that the protocol's environmental protection obligations are fully implemented for all Australian antarctic activities, particularly ensuring appropriate assessment of environmental impact.

The focus of the AAD's work in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was on developing effective responses to illegal, unregulated and unreported catching of Patagonian toothfish.

An Australian proposal, unanimously adopted by the 27 commission parties at their 1999 meeting in Hobart, requires all parties to verify the origins of toothfish catches and prohibits them from accepting imports which are not accompanied by valid catch documentation. The scheme has already restricted the market availability and prices for toothfish caught in an illegal, unregulated and unreported manner.

Australian Antarctic Division staff continued to play a role in the Commission's Fish Stock Assessment Working Group and its scientific committee, of which Australia holds the deputy chair. The sustainable harvesting of fish and krill in the Southern Ocean and the effects of fishing on other antarctic species were addressed.

The AAD was on the steering committee for a new international terrestrial biology programme - Regional Sensitivity to Climate Change in Antarctic Ecosystems - and on the international steering committee of the Ecology of the Antarctic Sea Ice Zone programme of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. It also provided the secretary of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research Bird Biology Working Group.

AAD scientists provided advice to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes on diseases of antarctic wildlife.

Meteorological information included reports to the World Meteorological Organisation for the Antarctic Basic Synoptic Network, weather forecasting for antarctic operations, and publication of the Weather Forecasting in Antarctica handbook. Atmospheric data were also provided for the world data centres, Ionospheric Prediction Services and other international organisations.

Protecting the Antarctic environment

Objective

The AAD seeks to protect the environment of Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and the Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands through measures designed to minimise environmental impacts, through undertaking research to ensure that environmental and fisheries management is based on sound scientific principles, and through remediation of past work sites. The AAD administers legislation covering environmental impact assessment and conservation of flora and fauna.

Result

The major field-based research effort in the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Programme is the pack ice seals survey, involving over 8000 kilometres of survey track by helicopter and 2000 kilometres by ship in an area of more than 1 million square kilometres. This multinational project is one of the most ambitious wildlife surveys ever undertaken and the largest in antarctic waters. Establishing numbers of these top predators is fundamental to the development of sustainable targets for fish and krill extraction from the Southern Ocean.

The Human Impacts Programme focused on the remediation of old sites, notably at the former Casey station tip. Other studies examined the effects of pollution on antarctic marine ecosystems, diseases of antarctic wildlife and the identification of protected areas. Remediation experiments indicated that, with the addition of a little water and nutrients, naturally occurring antarctic bacteria could degrade spilt fuel within a reasonable time. A toxicity experiment suggested that antarctic species might be more susceptible to pollutants than similar temperate species because they spend longer in the vulnerable larval stages.

Experimental studies of the behavioural response of penguins to disturbance by helicopters have been used as the basis for new operational guidelines. New software has been developed for automatically counting penguins from aerial photographs; this will significantly reduce the effort and cost of routine monitoring and will increase scientists' ability to detect subtle changes.

Midwinter investigations of the biology of the Mertz Glacier Polynya revealed it to be low in biological activity at that time of year. Continuous plankton recorder surveys showed that from spring to autumn the permanently open ocean zone has consistently much higher zooplankton species diversity than the marginal ice zone. Analysis showed a marked decline in zooplankton abundance within half a degree of latitude between the northern limit of the pack ice zone and the antarctic divergence, which may be evidence of a frontal zone not currently defined. The value of antarctic mosses in mutagenesis studies was explored, especially in response to climate change.

Energy consumption at all antarctic stations was reduced by 3.5 per cent following a 7 per cent reduction in the previous year. The increased efficiency is due primarily to the installation of a computer-based building monitoring and control system. A consolidated waste management contract has resulted in a more efficient and systematic waste disposal and recycling regime.

Planning and other environmental management work continued for the abandoned Wilkes Station in East Antarctica and the old Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions station on Heard Island.

Work began on the clean-up of the old Australian station at Atlas Cove on Heard Island with 17 tonnes of waste material being put on pallets for removal.

The AAD assessed 129 projects for environmental impact, of which 115 were projects in Antarctica and 14 on Heard Island. Of the 115 projects in Antarctica, 10 were for tourist visits. A total of 55 research projects required authorisation under the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 or the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987. Thirty continuing projects required variations to past authorisations.

Understanding the role of Antarctica in the global climate system

Objective

Australian Antarctic Division glaciologists, atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, biologists and geologists study conditions within Antarctica and the Southern Ocean that advance understanding of the global climate system.

Result

A multidisciplinary research cruise of the icebreaker Aurora Australis undertook the first detailed midwinter investigation of an antarctic coastal polynya (an area of open water within the pack ice). Processes within the large Mertz Glacier Polynya due south of Tasmania are believed to control the production, south of Australia, of extremely cold and saline antarctic bottom water, which has a major influence on global ocean circulation.

Detailed oceanographic, meteorological and glaciological data collected during this experiment, and from moored instruments, provided insight into the processes maintaining the polynya, on the rate of ice production in the polynya and on its influence on regional climate and, through bottom water formation, global climate.

The antarctic sea ice zone is a major source of the climatically active compound dimethyl sulphide. Studies focused on the difference between exceptionally high dimethyl sulphide productivity in the fast ice zone and much lower levels in the pack ice, which is thought to be related to nutrient availability. Identification and study of the ecophysiological and biochemical characteristics of about 95 isolates of marine bacteria collected in abundance in the Mertz Glacier Polynya during the 1999 midwinter cruise continued through the year, with many new species and genera identified. Data suggests that most of these bacteria groups may have important roles in secondary production and nutrient regeneration, such as the dissolution of silica.

A new multi-year, multidisciplinary field programme began to study the processes of melt and refreezing that occur under the Amery Ice Shelf. Of all Antarctica's ice formations, its floating ice shelves are the most sensitive to a changing climate, and melt from their undersides accounts for as much as half of the loss of the snow falling on the continent. A drilling system using hot water was tested to gain access to the underside of the ice shelf for measurements.

Ice thickness and ice movement measurements made between Davis and Mirny completed a study of the mass outflow from the ice sheet around the 2000-metre elevation of most of the western sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory (50E to 130E). Techniques have been developed to measure the rate of ice sheet movement from satellite data and to map the coastal margin of the continental snow and ice cover to provide a reliable baseline against which future change can be assessed. Analysis of over 1000 metres of Law Dome ice core provided a very high-resolution record of climate changes over thousands of years.

The Joint Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme - the pre-eminent international programme addressing fundamental scientific understanding of the physical climate system - established a climate and cryosphere project. Australia holds the vice-chair of the scientific steering group. Research and coordination initiatives within this project will integrate studies of the impact and response of the cryosphere, that portion of the earth's surface where water is in a solid form.

The major focus of palaeoenvironmental research was the development of Southern Ocean climate change records, including the study of sediment cores to monitor past temperature and carbon cycle changes, with particular emphasis on sediments from the South Tasman Rise and the Chatham Rise. Ocean drilling studies in Prydz Bay revealed evidence of changes in antarctic glaciation on scales ranging from tens of thousands of years to millions of years. Antarctic glaciation began between 37 and 35 million years ago, at a time when antarctic vegetation resembled that of western Tasmania today. The programme demonstrated the presence of a cold-climate rainforest in the region between 47 and 34 million years ago and a steady cooling of the ice sheet over the past 15 million years.

A marine geoscience survey of the continental margin off George V Land identified a new type of sediment drift on the continental shelf, believed to be formed by antarctic bottom water redistributing the sediment held in depressions on the shelf.

Atmospheric studies looked at the thermosphere wind fields above Davis and Mawson, revealing steady improvements in the representation of Antarctica in global numerical weather prediction models. The remote sensing of atmospheric variables and sea ice from polar orbiting satellites continued through the year. It is now possible to specify a new standard for the provision of operational meteorological services within Antarctica.

Surface weather and upper air data was gathered for the World Meteorological Organization, augmenting a valuable historical data bank. All antarctic upper-air stations and staffed surface observation stations continued to contribute substantially to Global Climate Observing System data sets.

Conducting scientific research of practical, economic or national importance

Objective

Australian research in Antarctica of practical, economic and national importance covered cosmic ray and upper atmosphere physics, glaciology, biology (including human biology) and meteorology.

Result

The AAD deployed five new automatic weather stations on Antarctica's ice sheet and replaced one existing station, bringing to 17 the total number of active Australian stations automatically supplying almost hourly data from Antarctica. A comprehensive data set on sea ice motion and surface meteorology measured by Australian drifting buoys in the sea ice zone was submitted to the World Data Centre for Glaciology for global distribution. Mean monthly temperature data from all occupied antarctic stations was compiled and made available on the Internet.

Antarctic ionosonde station data supported space weather services including high-frequency radio propagation. A joint Australian-Japanese study confirmed the existence of high-energy cosmic ray precursors of space weather storms. Calibrated geophysical data from magnetometers and output from station auroral imagers were made available to the international community and utilised in research work.

Further development of dynamic space weather models involved continuing studies of the solar wind and Earth's magnetosphere, ionosphere and atmosphere. This incorporated work on ionospheric absorption of galactic radio noise, the relationship between polar patch occurrence and surges in ionospheric plasma velocity, and mapping electron content variability and scintillation activity of signals at ‘L band' wavelengths.

The installation of a radar array installed on southern Bruny Island provided valuable space weather data over the Southern Ocean between Tasmania and Antarctica. Space weather in the high latitude ionosphere is a result of solar-terrestrial interactions, so it is important to be able to predict space weather conditions from measurement of a few essential parameters.

Studies of antarctic mesopause temperatures and the influence of solar variability on geoelectric fields resulted in published papers. Work continued on deployment of the LIDAR stratosphere-mesosphere laser system at Davis.

Past and current data on the material properties of ice and snow at potential airfield sites were analysed for the air transport study.

The potential commercial value of Southern Ocean microorganisms was studied.

A programme for the routine recording of high altitude clouds gathered data of value in monitoring ozone loss. These clouds appear to be increasing in frequency and provide the substratum for chemical reactions resulting in ozone destruction. Precursors to major geomagnetic storms of significance to telecommunications, aviation and power generation have been found to occur six to nine hours before the peak in solar radiation.

Seismic and magnetic data were collected to detect and locate earthquakes and nuclear explosions and to measure changes in the Earth's magnetic field.

Research into the human immune system in Antarctica indicated that dormant viruses can be reactivated, suggesting that a type of immune deficiency may occur in people living under antarctic conditions. This work is a ground-based analogy for long-term space flights.

Grants and other administrative responsibilities

Antarctic Science Advisory Committee Grants

The Australian Antarctic Division funds and administers Antarctic Science Advisory Committee grants. The grants are directed to research in high priority areas which contributes to the achievement of the Government's goals in Antarctica.

The Australian Antarctic Division introduced an Internet-based submission system that improved the coordination and assessment of research proposals. Of 175 proposals received, 126 were identified as being of sufficient quality and relevance to Australia's antarctic science programme to warrant operational support.

Seventy nine of the 175 applicants sought grant funding from the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee grants scheme, which supports university scientists in research able to contribute significantly to the goals of Australia's antarctic programme. Grants totalling $570 000 were awarded to 49 projects from 20 Australian universities and other eligible institutions.

Australian antarctic research programmes were organised into the following theme areas relevant to Australia's interests.

Atmospheric sciences: meteorological observing, analysis and prediction; climate of the troposphere; tropospheric chemistry; stratospheric meteorology and ozone chemistry; and middle and upper atmosphere climate.

Biological sciences: ecosystem structure and function; conservation and biological diversity; global change and the biota; local change and the biota; and the management of antarctic living resources.

Geosciences: the geological record of past antarctic environments; geological processes on the glaciated antarctic landmass, its continental margins and neighbouring deep ocean basins; and the geodynamics of Antarctica, its continental margins and the adjacent Southern Ocean basins.

Glaciology: ice sheet mass budget; ice sheet palaeoenvironmental record; sea ice; and applied glaciology.

Human impacts: values of the antarctic; threats to the Antarctic; characteristics of the antarctic environment; the efficiency of human activities in the Antarctic; procedures to limit impacts on the antarctic.

Oceanography: ocean transport and the air-sea exchange of heat, freshwater, carbon and other properties in the Southern Ocean; the role of ocean circulation in controlling the biological productivity of the Southern Ocean; the development of ocean circulation, biochemical and climate models of the Southern Ocean.

Cosmic ray research: the study of cosmic ray anisotropies and transient events at moderately high energies using data from a neutron monitor and surface and underground muon telescopes at Mawson and from other stations in a worldwide network.

Human biology and medicine: review of the collections of all agencies collaborating with the Australian Antarctic Division; an historical review of 50 years of human biological research by Australian National Antarctic

Research Expeditions; collaboration with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Annual progress reports of scientific achievements as measured against the science strategic plans are published on the Internet at www.aad.gov.au/science/spmc/index.html.

Territorial administration

The AAD administers the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands. Effort is aimed primarily at protecting the antarctic environment, and includes administering environmental legislation dealing with environmental impact assessment and measures for the conservation of flora and fauna. All activities conducted in Antarctica by Australian government and non-government organisations and individuals were subjected to environmental evaluation under the Guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessment in Antarctica approved by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.