Without the help of icebreaking ships, all-terrain vehicles and tough machinery, most Antarctic science could not happen. The French ship L’Astrolabe is a crucial facility for scientists exploring the Earth’s climate, oceans, atmosphere and ecology.
Every year, the ship and its crew, managed by the French Navy for the Institut polaire français Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV) from Hobart, support approximately 50 French and international scientific projects based out of the French stations Dumont d’Urville and Concordia. L’Astrolabe also transports food, supplies, logistics officers and scientists to and from the Australian Antarctic Division’s base on Macquarie Island.
More than 50 different environmental measures routinely collected by Australia’s national ocean research vessels—including sea surface temperature, dissolved oxygen concentration, and salinity—can now be accessed online almost as they are recorded.
The data is incorporated, often automatically, into predictive meteorological and ocean models, improving their accuracy. “So we end up with an improved representation not only of the weather but of processes like large scale ocean circulation or the state of the seas during tropical cyclones,” says Dr Roger Proctor, director of the e-Marine Information Infrastructure Facility of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System.
Ocean acidification, caused by increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean, poses a serious threat to marine ecosystems.
Increasing acidity affects the ability of some planktonic organisms to form shells, and is expected to change the species composition of plankton, with flow-on effects to higher levels of the food web.
Climate change will impose a complex web of threats and interactions on the plants and animals living in the ice-free areas of Antarctica.
Increased temperatures may promote growth and reproduction, but may also contribute to drought and associated effects. These scenarios are explored in a new book, Trends in Antarctic Terrestrial and Limnetic Ecosystems: Antarctica as a Global Indicator, co-edited by Australian Antarctic Division biologist, Dr. Dana Bergstrom.