Antarctic monitoring update proposed by Aus, NZ, Korean scientists 

Scientists are calling for an overhaul of observational systems used for Antarctic ecosystems spanning from the Ross Sea towards the east of the continent.  

Such a program would build upon a new monitoring initiative in development by the Australian Antarctic Division.  

Led by Dr Petra Heil, a sea ice scientist with the AAD, the proposal in Frontiers in Marine Science suggests “key observing system components” as part of a new Ross Sea-far East Antarctic Region (RSfEAR) observation system should include moored instrumentation for physical and chemical monitoring, high-resolution satellite imagery to measure ice drift, remote sensing of ice and snow depth, and inclusion of biogeochemical process into physical modelling.  

Describing their recommendations as a “system design rethink” in response to urgency among scientists regarding the changing face of Antarctica, particularly through record-breaking declines in sea ice, the researchers hope their proposition could address data deficiencies. 

“There is a significant element of aspiration, and continuing effort will be required to develop and maintain these resources,” they write. 

“However, as a counter, this work is overlaid by a sense of urgency from most stakeholder viewpoints around Antarctic sea ice in the coming decades. A range of studies point to the next few years as critical for determining future conditions for one of the least understood regions of the Earth system.” 

Heil specifically points to the existing, limited understanding of interactions between Antarctica’s oceans, sea ice and atmosphere.  

“Polar processes are critical in shaping Earth’s climate and ecosystems,” Heil says. 

“Our understanding of the interactions between the Antarctic ocean, sea ice and atmosphere, and their role in the Earth’s physical, chemical and biological processes is incomplete, especially near the coast where glaciers meet the sea ice and ocean.” 

“While there have been repeat or long-term studies at some Antarctic locations, the region in the far East Antarctic and Ross Sea is largely understudied and poorly observed.” 

Increasing use of remote sensing, high-resolution satellite imagery and modelling updates are important measures for science initiatives that often rely on getting ‘on ice’.  

Antarctic missions rely on large icebreaking vessels to reach the southern continent. Presently, some 77 personnel are on board the Australian Antarctic Mission’s RSV Nuyina in Burnie awaiting refuelling for their voyage. Owing to a delay in a supply tanker, the voyage will depart a day later than anticipated on 17 October, with a scheduled arrival at Davis Station on 11 November. 

The AAD recently appeared before a two-day senate inquiry called in response to purported budget and program cuts. Its leaders say science projects are failing to progress beyond proposal stages. 

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