Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future’s 2023-2024 field season begins

SAEF’s Antarctic field season has started with around 20 scientists and professional staff scheduled to make journeys south. They will take part in a series of fieldwork expeditions and leadership initiatives designed to deliver the science and workforce development required to address the region’s most urgent challenges. 

Expeditions will take place to the Bunger Hills, Dronning Maud Land, and Cape Bird to complete fieldwork for interdisciplinary research within the fields of glaciology, biology, ecology, remote sensing and more. Meanwhile, four SAEF women will develop their leadership skills as part of Homeward Bound, a global initiative which aims to elevate the visibility and influence of women in STEM. 

This year’s activities are taking place against the backdrop of record low sea ice levels and the arrival of H5N1 Avian Flu that is already devastating animal colonies. As Antarctica and the Southern Ocean continue to experience rapid changes that are radiating across the globe, the delivery of science to inform policy-makers on how to address these issues has never been more important.

“The extensive field season envisaged for SAEF will deliver the integrated research outcomes that are urgently required to understand a changing Antarctica and the required interventions to mitigate and adapt to change.” 

— Professor Steven Chown, SAEF Director

Denman Glacier Campaign

In late November, scientists will join the Australian Antarctic Program’s Denman Terrestrial Campaign. For approximately eight weeks, the team will be based in a remote field camp in the Bunger Hills, a region 450 km west of Casey Station, alongside scientists and support personnel from the Australian Antarctic Division, the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science and the Australian Antarctic Partnership Program. 

The team will conduct fieldwork for six interrelated research projects that seek to understand the region’s past, present and future and deliver insights that can inform its protection. They will collect rock, soil, invertebrate and moss samples and complete drone-based remote sensing and visual mapping. 

This will support research to unveil how the Denman Glacier has changed over time and its implications for sea level change and the region’s biodiversity. It will also be integrated into broad-scale assessments of biodiversity and landscape change to provide policy-ready insights for decision-makers.  

Dronning Maud Land Campaign

In early January, scientists and support personnel will travel to Dronning Maud Land to complete fieldwork aimed at understanding the evolution and function of the landscape and its biodiversity. This expedition will be supported by White Desert, through their science logistics program

The team will collect springtail samples for research using genomics and rock dating to understand how the landscape has evolved given the glacial evolution in the region. They will also collect moss strands, which similar to tree rings, can be dated to provide complimentary short-term dating and insights into the region’s past environment. These understandings of the past will help to project and prepare policy responses for the future. 

The collection of soil samples and the results of in-field gas experiments will provide insights into the extent to which microbial communities in the ice-free areas in Antarctica are underpinned by a hydrogen economy, providing insights into the most basic requirements for life on Earth. They will also test an AI-powered remote monitoring system aimed at providing scientists with a constant stream of data from the continent. 

Cape Bird Campaign

In mid-November, scientists will travel to Cape Bird on Ross Island with Antarctica New Zealand. Cape Bird is the location of an Antarctica Specially Protected Area (ASPA) which contains some of the most abundant moss beds in the Ross Sea region. The team will conduct drone surveys of moss and penguin colony extent, and ground sampling of mosses and invertebrates to support the Antarctic Treaty System review of the ASPA Management Plan. 

Homeward Bound

Finally, this week four SAEF women have set sail for Antarctica as participants in Homeward Bound, a global leadership initiative that aims to create influential leaders for a more sustainable future. This program, which provides an opportunity for both academic and non-academic staff to travel south, has departed from Puerto Madryn, Argentina for a 20-day voyage to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. 

While at sea the team will participate in a leadership program that aims to increase the influence of women in making decisions that shape the future of our planet.

You can follow the activities of our SAEF scientists and staff on social media via #SAEFGoesSouth.



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SAEF Goes South