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Day 1 - Observing Systems

Title: Antarctic Environments Portal: Update on Progress

Presenter: Neil Gilbert

Antarctica New Zealand

Authors: Jana Newman1, Neil Gilbert1, Fraser Morgan2, Steven L. Chown3, Aleks Terauds4, Ewan McIvor4

1 - Antarctica New Zealand

2 - Landcare Research New Zealand

3 - Monash University

4 - Australian Antarctic Division


The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) is charged with providing advice to Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCMs) on the state of Antarctic environments. The CEP has a prioritised work plan with actions including managing the risks associated with non-native species in Antarctica, understanding the implications of climate change for the management of the environment and maintaining an awareness of threats to biodiversity.

It is our view that improving the flow of scientific information into the policy discussions is critical to the CEP's effectiveness in addressing these and other important issues. Robust, up to date science-based information in a format that is accessible to policy makers is urgently needed.

New Zealand is working with SCAR, Australia, Belgium and Norway to create an online Antarctic Environments Portal to meet this need. The Portal will improve the availability of, and access to scientific syntheses and other high quality information. The Portal aims to facilitate the link between Antarctic scientists and policy makers. Scientists will be able to understand the priorities of the policy makers and see the influence their work has on decision making. Policy makers will have easy access to summary information on Antarctic environments and be able to see the emerging issues under discussion by leading scientists.

This paper gives an update on the project and invites scientists interested in being involved in the project to do so by contacting any of the authors of this paper.

Title: Building a Southern Ocean Observing System

Presenter: Louise Newman

Southern Ocean Observing System International Project Office, IMAS, UTas

Authors: L Newman1, M Meredith2, O Schofield3, M Sparrow4, E Urban5

1 - Southern Ocean Observing System International Project Office, IMAS, UTas

2 - British Antarctic Survey, UK

3 - Rutgers University, USA

4 - SCAR Secretariat, Cambridge, UK

5 - SCOR Secretariat, Delaware, USA


The Southern Ocean is fundamental to the operation of the Earth system, as it plays a central role in global climate and planetary-scale biogeochemical cycles. The Southern Ocean is changing rapidly, and the critical need to observe and understand the Southern Ocean is well established; however, the harsh conditions and remote location have led to it being the most under-sampled region of the world. Sustained observations are required to detect, interpret, and respond to the physical, chemical, and biological changes that are, and will continue to be measured. Towards providing these observations, the Southern Ocean research community produced an integrated plan for developing a Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) that would integrate the global assets of the international community to enhance data collection, provide access to datasets, and guide the development of strategic-sustained-multidisciplinary science in the Southern Ocean. This presentation will provide an overview of SOOS objectives and the workplan towards SOOS’ 20-year vision, and outline newly developed strategies that aim to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the Southern Ocean.

Title: Observing the ocean at high resolution

Presenter: Helen Phillips

Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

Authors: Dr Helen Phillips1 and Professor Nathan Bindoff2

1 - IMAS, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia,

2 - IMAS, CSIRO-MAR, ACE-CRC, ARC CoE-Climate Systems Science, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia,


One of the challenges in oceanography is accurately representing processes that are too small to be fully resolved in ocean and climate models. Many of these processes are also too small, or too intermittent, to be well observed. Consequently, we rely on theoretical descriptions that have not been validated by measurements to quantify the effects of small scale mixing, intertial waves and mesoscale eddies.

Using a novel instrument, the EM-APEX profiling float, we have observed rich detail in the ocean’s velocity and density structure. These observations reveal the rotation of velocity through the Ekman layer, upwelling and downwelling within the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, propagation of internal waves with which we can estimate vertical mixing, and the stirring and mixing of water properties by eddies and the mean current. In the Southern Ocean each of these processes plays an essential role in the global overturning circulation, and each is relatively crudely represented in climate models. Observing, quantifying, and improving the parameterisation of these small-scale, typically unobserved, processes is frontier science, and new advances in instrumentation is enabling us to do it and more accurately characterise the effects on mean structure and geographic location.

Title: Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to capture micro-topography of Antarctic moss beds

Presenter: Arko Lucieer

School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania

Authors: Arko Lucieer1, Zbynìk Malenovský1, Darren Turner1, Sharon Robinson2

1 - School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 76, Hobart 7001, Australia (

2 - Institute for Conservation Biology, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia (


This study is the first to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for mapping moss beds in Antarctica. Polar regions are experiencing rapid and severe climatic shifts with major changes in temperature, wind speed and UV-B radiation already observed in Antarctica. Since vegetation is isolated to the coastal fringe and climatic records only extend back 50 years, with limited spatial resolution, we urgently need new proxies to determine if coastal climate has changed over the past century. In a manner similar to trees, old growth mosses also preserve a climate record along their shoots. Mosses can therefore be used as sentinels to provide crucial information on how the Antarctic coastal climate has changed over past centuries.

The spatial scale of moss beds (tens of m2) makes satellite imagery unsuitable for mapping their extent in sufficient detail. Recent developments in the use of UAS, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for remote sensing applications provide exciting new opportunities for ultra-high resolution mapping and monitoring of the environment. In this study, we used a micro-UAV consisting of an auto-piloted multi-rotor helicopter (i.e. OktoKopter) carrying three different sensors: a 6-band multispectral sensor, a high resolution visible camera, and a thermal sensor for cost-effective, efficient, and ultra-high resolution mapping of moss beds in the Windmill Islands, Antarctica.

In this presentation we will focus on the use of a new computer vision algorithm, called Structure-from-Motion (SfM), for extracting an ultra-high resolution digital surface model (DSM) (2 cm pixel size) and orthophoto mosaic (1 cm pixel size) from the UAV aerial photography. The DSM successfully captured the micro-topography of the moss beds to an accuracy of 4 cm. From the DSM the contributing upstream area was derived as a proxy for water availability from snowmelt, one of the key environmental drivers of moss health. A Monte Carlo simulation with 300 realisations was implemented to model the impact of error in the DSM on runoff direction. Significant correlations were found between these simulated water availability values and field measurements of moss health and water content. In the future ultra-high spatial resolution DSMs acquired with a UAV could thus be used to determine the impact of changing snow cover on the health and spatial distribution of polar vegetation non-destructively.

Title: Multilateral opportunities to deliver regionally strategic science and observing systems

Presenter: Andrew Constable

Australian Antarctic Division / Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre

Authors: Andrew Constable1,2

1 - Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Australia

2 - Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Hobart, Australia


Climate change impacts on the physical environment are expected to differ between regions in the Southern Ocean. Synchronised studies between these regions provide an opportunity to test hypotheses about direct and indirect ecosystem responses to changing physical habitats. In this talk I discuss approaches to formalise assessments of status and trends and likelihood of future states in Southern Ocean marine ecosystems that will assist assessments of ecosystem change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and managing the conservation of biodiversity by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and other forums governing the region. In particular, I outline linkages between a number of international initiatives that may contribute to these assessments, including The Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS), the Southern Ocean Sentinel and ecosystem modelling in the international program Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics in the Southern Ocean (ICED), Future Earth and the SCAR programs and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP). Lastly, as a stimulus to further discussion on regional collaboration, I will outline the opportunities for multilateral coordination and collaboration to enable long-term scientific activities to contribute to assessing status and trends of marine ecosystems in the Indian and West Pacific sectors of the Southern Ocean.

Title: Terahertz observations of star forming regions from the high plateau of Antarctica

Presenter: Michael Ashley

The University of New South Wales

Authors: M Ashley1, C Kulesa2, M Burton1, J Storey1

1 - The University of New South Wales

2 - The University of Arizona


In January 2012 we installed a 0.6m terahertz telescope (HEAT) on the PLATO-R observatory at Ridge A in Antarctica.

HEAT is surveying the Milky Way galaxy in emission lines from atomic carbon lines and carbon monoxide. These lines give new information about the processes of star formation, and can only otherwise be observed from space or a high-altitude balloon.

PLATO-R is an Australian-developed autonomous astronomical observatory that is capable of a power output of 300W continuous and 2kW peak using a combination of solar panels and diesel engines running on Antarctic blend kerosene. PLATO-R is deployable via Twin Otter. It uses dual Iridium modems for data download and control..

Data from HEAT from the 2012 season are now available on-line and are of excellent quality. Numerous molecular clouds are resolved and can be compared with maps taken in other molecular species by other telescopes.

Ridge A, 150km from Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic plateau, has shown itself to be a superlative terahertz site. For example, during March 2013, a relatively "wet" part of the year, the average precipitable water vapour was only 0.14mm. At 1.5THz the atmospheric opacity at Ridge A was below 1.5 for 85 days from January to October 2012, compared with 5 days for the same period at the best established site on the Chajnantor plain. Even more importantly the opacity is highly stable, with our 2012 data suggesting that the sky noise is less that half that of the South Pole on average.

The HEAT telescope was upgraded with an improved detector during a servicing mission in early 2013, with plans to reach the ionised carbon line at 1.9THz in 2014.

Latest news

  • Conference prize winners
    27 Jun 2013

    The Strategic Science in Antarctica conference concluded yesterday and two days of workshops have commenced. Congratulations to those who were awarded prizes for their contributions to the conference.

  • Watch the welcome message from Australia's Environment Minister
    24 Jun 2013

    In a welcome message via video from Canberra, Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, reflected on the foresight of earlier decision-makers who agreed to set aside an entire continent for scientific research.

  • Last minute information for attendees
    20 Jun 2013

    There's not too long to wait until the start of the Strategic Science in Antarctica conference, and we hope you’re as excited as we are! Read on for more information about the final program, registration, Twitter, presenters, posters and social functions.

More news…

Key dates

  • 11th June 2013
    Registrations close
  • 21st June 2013
    Registrations at the AAD open for staff
  • 24th June 2013
    Registrations at the venue open
  • 24th June 2013
    Conference commences
  • 26th June 2013
    Conference concludes

More key dates…

This page was last modified on 6 June 2013.