The original Australasian Antarctic Expedition produced the first comprehensive study of the vast region south of Australia and New Zealand. The three years’ worth of observations gleaned by Mawson and his men provide a precious dataset we can compare against today. Yet, in spite of a century of research, major research questions remain. Weighty policy documents highlighting the key science questions in the region are regularly prepared by national governments and institutions. But the combination of extreme conditions and vast distances involved make the Australasian sector of the Antarctic one of the most problematic to study. With the dramatic environmental and climatic changes seen across the region, the need is an urgent one.
Last week we had two brilliant days planning the science programme with the Australian and New Zealand teams at the University of New South Wales and Landcare Research. It was pretty intense. Although Chris and I knew everyone, some were complete strangers to the rest of the team. After the personal introductions were made, presentations were given on the latest science from across the region and where the major gaps in knowledge are. All manner of science projects were discussed. It was fantastic to hear how one project might link to another during the six week voyage south; many of them unforeseen before the meeting. Studies on leopard seals are now going to be compared to archival material to get a better handle on how this species has changed over the last hundred years while trees on the subantarctic islands hold out the prospect of better understanding the Southern Ocean carbon cycle back to the time of Mawson and beyond. Working along a remarkable transect we’ll also be able to gain valuable new insights into the impact of poleward shifting westerly winds on the East Antarctic ice sheet.
It is a real advantage to be able to chose a team of people you genuinely like but are also world experts in their own right. The result was two days bouncing ideas and developing a truly collaborative project; just in the spirit of Mawson. In the next two weeks we hope to have our new website up and running. Here you will find full details on the science program, and how you can get involved, either by buying a berth on the vessel or virtually. It’s all looking incredibly exciting!