Deep seascapes of the Great Barrier Reef

Uncovering submarine canyons and landslides along the continental margin of the Great Barrier Reef.

Transit voyage from Brisbane to Darwin to relocate the vessel in preparation for IN2019_V06. During the transit, a number of research, education and outreach projects will be undertaken.

The Chief Scientist on this voyage will lead a project to map the seafloor along the Great Barrier Reef continental slope. Four main areas of interest will be mapped to produce 3D imagery of key landslides and canyons in the region. This data will be used to increase our understanding of how and when the Great Barrier Reef formed.

See here for more:

Studying the air in Antarctica

Every day our atmosphere has to find a way to clean itself of the air, sea and soil pollution we throw at it.

So, in order to study how this cleaning process works, the University of Melbourne’s Dr Robyn Schofield is sailing through the pristine environment of the Southern Ocean to our most untouched continent, Antarctica – an environment with the least amount of pollution on the planet. Read the article here.

Studying the air in Antarctica

Alex’s RV Investigator blog

The Slow Journey South


Here we are on the Australian Research Vessel Investigator in the great swells of the Southern Ocean. It is day 33 of 43. We are 65 degrees South, 132 degrees East, and about 100 km north of the Antarctic coastline. To get here we have passed through the roaring forties and furious fifties and entered into the screaming sixties – regions of wild winds that circle the Southern Ocean unimpeded by land. If you pan over this spot in Google Earth you won’t find much beyond a large expanse of seemingly empty ocean. That begs the question: What on Earth are we doing out here?


The practical motivation is science. We have two main teams of scientists on-board, an atmosphere team and an ocean team. One team looking up. One team looking down. The atmosphere team, myself included, has their heads in the clouds. We’re looking up with various lasers, radars, air samplers and weather balloons filled with helium to better understand how this remote ocean environment helps with the formation of clouds – a process of the climate system we know little about. The ocean team is casting equipment into the depths to take measurements of different ocean layers. These deep ocean layers contain water that may have been cut off from the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years. They measure all sorts of different physical and biological properties such as temperature, oxygen, nutrients, carbon, trace metals, chlorophyll and much more. This is a continuation of a dataset that extends back to 1991.


The ocean team set out a long list of locations where they wanted to cast their lines. Upon reaching each location, we sit and wait while the instruments drop down to ocean bottom (sometimes over four kilometers down) and come back up again with samples of water throughout the profile. This means we spend many hours bobbing up and down in the water sitting, waiting and then sampling. The journey south to the Antarctic ice edge, which could take just five days, therefore took us twenty-two days.


The Science


The Southern Ocean provides us with a unique natural laboratory that gives an insight into how things might have been before the industrial era. It is a pristine environment that is largely out of reach from human influence and any influence from the land. However, measurements of the ocean and atmosphere in this part of the world are few and far between. Our limited knowledge of this environment is a major concern for climate modelers. In particular, it’s the curious clouds that draw our attention.


This unique environment produces some unique clouds. Over land, as water builds up in a cloud it will typically condense on a tiny particle (an aerosol), start to grow, get heavy and fall back toward the Earth. If it’s cold enough, the water will condense on an aerosol and freeze forming a snowflake. Out here, the air is so clean that the water has very few aerosols to condense upon. This means that the clouds can live for long periods of time without raining out. It also means that many clouds out here are made up of super-cooled liquid water i.e. they are a liquid at sub-zero temperatures.


We also think that there are some curious interactions between marine biology and cloud formation. The phytoplankton that form the base of the Antarctic food web and that attract so much wildlife, like krill and whales and seals and birds, also produce some natural aerosols (e.g. sulfur containing compounds). These aerosols can be carried up into the atmosphere and help to form clouds. It’s an intriguing connection between marine life, clouds and the climate that forms a key component of the well-known Gaia hypothesis.


These complicated interactions between the marine biology, aerosols, clouds and climate are exactly what we’re out here to better understand. This will hopefully help us resolve some issues that climate models have over this region. Our campaign therefore includes an assault on the atmosphere using ship-based, aircraft and satellite instruments. The aircraft, a Gulfstream V from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NOAA), has been flying south from Hobart through these super-cooled liquid clouds to measure their unique properties. The satellites, in particular CALIPSO and CloudSat, provide a broad overview of the region and fill in the gaps where the aircraft and ship don’t reach.


The View


So that’s the practical motivation. If that’s not enough, I think most people on-board agree that this journey is just as much about the experience of adventure and novelty. Life on the ship is new to me. Thankfully the Investigator is well equipped, well crewed and perhaps most importantly for this neophyte well balanced in the big swell of the Southern Ocean. A good routine helps to adjust quickly. Wake, eat, check the instruments, get some fresh air, eat, process data, gym, write, table tennis, eat, share stories, sea sickness tablet, sleep, repeat. Beyond the routine it’s the unique people and the spectacular view that keep things really interesting. And we’ve seen breathtaking sights that few have ever seen before.


Despite having some of the harshest living conditions on Earth these waters are highly productive and are absolutely teaming with life. We’re in the peak of summer right now, which means an influx of marine mammals and birds. Just today we saw a pod of at least a dozen orcas, with juveniles in tow. Four days ago we saw a pod of at least thirty pilot whales, big black melon-headed whales. We see humpbacks on almost a daily basis. If we’re lucky we’ll spot some penguins or a seal out on the sea ice. All sorts of birds circle the ship, dipping and gliding over the swell of the sea: Royal albatross, black-browed albatross, sootie albatross, snow petrels, cape petrels and many more. This spectacle of nature brings about wonder in us all. To make it even better, it’s set upon the backdrop of icebergs and sea ice and (if we’re lucky) a wondrous drawn-out polar sunset.


After a few more stops we’ll be on our way back to Hobart to end this six-week journey. The scientists will collate their data and share their ideas. With luck and hard work this will lead to a better understanding of this phenomenally complex and wondrous environment.

PhD Scholarship: Atmospheric Chemistry at University of Wollongong

The Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC) in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health (SMAH) at the University of Wollongong offers opportunities for up to two highly motivated PhD students to work on the project Tackling Atmospheric Chemistry Grand Challenges in the Southern Hemisphere. The project(s) will sit within a 5-year program looking at the Southern Hemisphere atmosphere using a range of techniques, including remote sensing, satellite data and atmospheric models. The PhD project(s) will focus on part of that work. The full-time, fixed-term (3-year with possibility of 6-month extension) positions are available for commencement anytime in 2018, and are supported by project funding from the Australian Research Council and through the University of Wollongong. Each position provides a tuition scholarship, a tax-free stipend, and funding for research expenses and conference travel.

Applicants should have (or expect to have by the time of commencement) an honours/master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree with research experience in atmospheric science, applied mathematics, earth sciences, physical chemistry or physics. Experience and/or aptitude with scientific programming or modelling is preferred but not essential. An ability to work independently to realise project goals is expected. Women, minorities, and members of other underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

The successful applicant will have the opportunity to work collaboratively within Australia and in international networks such as TCCON and GEOS-Chem, with collaborators at the University of Melbourne, North American and European universities, and research institutes. The positions will remain open until filled and start dates are flexible, but preference will be given to applicants who apply before March 31, 2018 and can commence as soon as possible thereafter.

The exact topic of study has some flexibility and will be designed in consultation with the student within the research interests of CAC. Further information regarding CAC and the types of projects available can be obtained from the CAC website:

To apply, please contact Dr. Jenny Fisher ( with copies of academic transcripts, a curriculum vitae and the names and contact information of three references. Please also include the abstract of your honours/master’s thesis if applicable, as well as a short statement of your research interests. Enquiries are encouraged, and applicants can make initial informal contact with any of the academics listed on the CAC website before applying.

Neil’s V3 blog

After months of waiting and preparation, which included paperwork, training on scientific equipment and a medical examination, I had finally arrived in Hobart where in two day’s time I would be boarding the ship, the Aurora Australis bound for Mawson Station in Antarctica. For me, the journey to Hobart had been a long one, I had flown from Munich Airport to Singapore, before continuing onwards to Sydney and finally, Hobart. I arrived late Sunday evening and had pre-departure training early the next morning.

The training is compulsory who for all expeditioners who venture south and covers various aspects of the trip such health and safety, environmental issues and the risks associated with exposure in such a hostile environment. Did you know that under the worst weather conditions in Antarctica, any exposed skin can suffer from frostbite in under 2 minutes? We were also told stories about various accidents and close calls that had occurred on previous ventures down south. The one that remained with me involved an expeditioner who had ventured outside during a blizzard, he was attempting to make it to the toilet hut some 30m away, but had become disorientated under whiteout conditions and got lost. His fellow expeditioners had been unaware that he had left. They eventually realised that he was missing a few hours later, but were unable to form an immediate search party due to the severity of the blizzard outside. By the next day conditions had settled down and they were eventually able to commence a search. They found him curled up in a foetal position a few hundred meters from their shelter. At this point he was still alive, but was suffering from severe hypothermia and frostbite brought about from his exposure. Unfortunately, his conditions had detiorated to far and despite their efforts to save him, he eventually passed away.

The following day we sailed from Hobart at 11:30am (local time) under warm sunny conditions. My fellow expeditioners and I decided to take advantage of the good weather by relaxing outdoors on the upper decks, either sunbathing or watching the stunning Tasmanian coastline pass us by. I enjoyed being outside and feeling the warmth of the sun on skin knowing that in a few day’s time I would not have that luxury.

Aboard the ship I have two pieces of equipment to look after. The first is a Tekran Mercury Analyser, which we’re using to make observations of atmospheric mercury concentrations throughout the voyage. Observations of atmospheric mercury in southern-hemisphere are very limited, so the measurements are helping to provide some vital information regarding background levels over the southern-ocean and around the Antarctic continent. The second piece of equipment is MAX-DOAS, a passive spectrometer that uses both visible and UV radiation to provide a vertical profile aerosol particles and atmospheric trace gases. Looking after the equipment only takes up a couple of hours of my time each day, so I’ve offered my assistance with cleaning and launching weather balloons to the ARMs (Atmospheric Radiation Monitoring) technicians who have around 20 to 30 pieces of equipment on the top of the ship.

For the first couple of days at sea we were blessed with calm and pleasant conditions, with a light southerly breeze and waves of no more than 1-2 m. However, this wasn’t to last. Late Friday afternoon we entered a low-pressure system causing an increase in swell, wave and wind conditions. By Saturday the ship was being buffeted by large waves of 10-12m, turning any objects that hadn’t been secured into projectiles that were thrown across the cabin. Trying to sleep that night was an uncomfortable experience, to avoid ending up in a crumpled pile of limbs, pillow and doona on the floor I was forced to securely wedge myself into the corner of my bed between the mattress and wall. Somehow, I managed to survive this rough experience without feeling nauseous, although I’m not sure whether this down to pure luck or the sea-sickness tablets that I had been taking. By Sunday we had passed the low-pressure region and both wind and sea conditions had largely settled down.


The most efficient route from Hobart to Mawson involves the ship following a circular track which takes into account the curvature of the Earth and our increasingly Southern Latitude. After 8 days at sea the ship finally crossed the line of 60 degrees south. On-board ships this is celebrated by a ceremony whereby, anyone who is crossing this line for the first time is presented with a certificate from the ship’s captain. Our progress into the cooler Antarctic waters also heralded the sighting of ever greater numbers of Antarctic bird species, including Albatross and petrels, as well as a few whale sightings around the ship.

As we slowly progressed south the Aurora Australis’ crew announced that the ship would be having a raffle and encouraged people to nominate 10 minute timeslots for the sighting of the first iceberg bigger than the ship. The raffle was eventually won by the ship’s captain, perhaps suggesting that his years of experience may have provided an unfair advantage. For me the appearance of icebergs was quite exciting. Before this trip I had never seen an iceberg in person. The closest I had come was from watching the film “Titanic” and so I decided to brave the sub-zero conditions up on deck and maximise my time taking pictures of these colossal Icey beasts.

In preparation for our arrival in Antarctica we were subject to strict quarantine measures that are imposed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). As a result, we were expected to thoroughly clean all of our personal gear, clothing and equipment to ensure that it was free from any seeds and soil that could introduce alien species into the sensitive Antarctic environment.

Up until this point our voyage had been proceeding according to plan, the ship had been making good progress and was currently 4 days ahead of schedule. However, this was not to last. The next day a spanner was thrown in the works with the news that the reverse osmosis (RO) plant at Davis Station had failed. The RO plant is responsible for providing Davis with enough fresh water to last throughout the winter. Without it operating, fresh water supplies at Davies were at risk of running out and so the ship was being diverted to provide additional fresh water.

Soon we were cruising amongst the pack-ice. For me this was quite exciting as I would finally get to see the ships ice-breaking abilities in action. Luckily for any would be photographers, the ships’ crew allowed expeditioners to stand up front at the bow of the ship where you are rewarded with a front row seat to the ship crashing its way through the ice. Ice breaking isn’t actually a result of the ship’s bow acting like a knife to cut through the ice. Instead, it’s a result of ships specially designed hull being lifted up on top of the ice by powerful engines and the ship’s own weight then splitting the ice and pushing it aside. The pack-ice also heralded the appearance of a variety of seals, including Leopard, Weddell and Crabeater seals resting lazily on the ice and raising their drowsy heads to watch as the ship cruised past. Apart from Orca (Killer Whales), Leopard Seals are one of the largest predators within the Antarctic food chain, so seeing them in the wild is a definite treat.

As the Antarctic mainland grew closer on the horizon, I finally saw my first wild Adelee penguins! I had of course seen penguins previously in the zoo, but nothing can prepare you for seeing them in the wild, running around on the pack-ice like comical little tuxedo wearing clowns. It’s so cool, this was the reason I wanted to come down Antarctica for years. Adelee penguins are completed naive though, I was watching them sit on the pack-ice in front of the ship as it bared down on them and they just stand and stare. It appears as though their brains can’t quite comprehend what they are seeing and I can just imagine them with their beaks hanging open mouthing “what!!!!!!!!” as this huge red ice-berg crashes towards them. They do eventually dive out of the way, and so no penguins were hurt during the voyage. At this point I was informed by one of my fellow expeditioners that penguins have the intelligence of a chicken, although I would like to give them a bit more credit…

We soon arrived at Davis and commenced our operations of topping up the stations supply of fresh water. At this point the Aurora Australis was anchored about 400m from the Antarctic mainland, but to the frustration of all expeditioners on-board we not have the opportunity to set foot on land and explore. After a couple of days we finally commenced on our original voyage. Two days later we arrived at Mawson, our ultimate destination. However, another spanner was about to be thrown in the works, with the news that Horseshoe harbour, where the ship was hoping to dock and commence resupply, was frozen over. It may seem ironic that an icebreaker is prevented from entering the harbour by a thin layer of ice, but the harbour is narrow and shallow and the ship can’t use its bow thrusters to properly move while amongst the ice. To enter the harbour under these conditions would risk the ship running aground. So resupply from the harbour was put on hold.


2nd March: Mawson is situated within a natural cove known as Horseshoe harbour. As the harbour was frozen over, the decision was made for the ship to hold position about 600m from the station, just to the north of a rocky outcrop known as the West-Arm. A small party was sent ashore to help secure the ship’s mooring line and also to set up the hose that would transfer fuel from the ship to the station. I was invited to join the party to help provide some additional help, very happily I accepted the offer. We were transported ashore via a small inflatable motor-boat, known as an IRB. This was it, I had finally made it too Antarctica and could now claim to have set foot on a continent where very few people will ever have the opportunity. Undertaking this operation was a labour intensive task, made more difficult by the frigid temperatures, strong winds and heavy snowfall that were now blanketing the area. Trying to undertake any task in these conditions becomes a difficult operation as the cold temperature ensure that you are bundled up in multiple layers, while the thick gloves make already fiddly jobs far more complex. My shift lasted 4 hours. By the time it was over I was starting to feel the effects of being out in the cold and was very glad to return to the ship where I could recover over a hot drink and meal.

It was around this time that I had the first complication with the scientific equipment. While I was undertaking my morning equipment checks I noticed that a red ‘lamp’ light had flicked itself on at the front of the Tekran Mercury Analyser. The light indicates that the equipment requires a sort of calibration, via a process known as a ‘lamp adjustment procedure’. The overall aim of this procedure is to adjust the voltage supply to the lamp inside the Tekran unit. The lamp itself is essential to correctly measuring the concentrations of atmospheric mercury in the air, so fixing this issue was of paramount importance. The procedure is simple enough if you know what you’re doing and basically involves opening up the equipment, adjusting the lamp’s position and then connecting a voltmeter to calibrate the voltage to the correct level. Unfortunately for me I was unsure of exactly where to connect the voltmeter as the inside of the Tekran looks like a giant circuit board. This is where Grant Edwards of Macquarie University came to my rescue by emailing me a technical guide of how to complete the procedure, he also included his own bullet-point summary. With these in hand I returned to the equipment and after much effort, I successfully completed the calibration, mission completed.

A few days later an order came through from AAD headquarters in Hobart authorising the ship to reverse into the harbour in an attempt to dislodge and break-up the ice cover. This provided a great deal of excitement for all on board who were now gathering on the helideck and jostling for the best position to watch and film as the ship rammed the ice. The results were quite spectacular and the ship successfully cut a narrow channel into harbour. It would however take the remainder of the day and several more channels to completely break up the ice before the retreating tide removed it from the harbour.

Over the next couple of days I assisted with the resupply operations by manning the ‘bunker door’. The bunker door, is a door on the side of the ship from which a rope ladder is dropped. This provides the main route for expeditioners and crew to transfer between the ship and the IRB’s which then ferry them ashore. Working the bunker door is a fairly simple task that involves assisting passengers with the rope ladder, lowering and raising bags and keeping a record of everyone that comes and goes from the ship.

With resupply operations well underway, I was offered the opportunity to spend the day ashore exploring Mawson. This would be one of the highlights of my trip to Antarctica. The buildings at Mawson are coloured according to their purpose, red for residential and recreational quarters, green for warehouse storage, blue for power and yellow for operations. All of these buildings are interconnected by a network of ropes that help to prevent expeditioners from becoming disoriented during white-out conditions. For the duration of my time onshore I was confined to within the station limits, this is a safety precaution for anyone that has not undertaken field training as the weather in Antarctica can change very quickly. Unfortunately this meant that I would not be able to visit the penguin rookeries, but as there were a few curious penguins wandering about the station I was perfectly content.

A few days later resupply was complete and we started the long return journey back to Hobart, it would take us another 2 weeks to complete this. After all the excitement of seeing Antarctica, the return journey felt like a bit of an anti-climax, everyone was now looking forward to getting home and so the excitement which accompanied us on the trip down was now gone. As we slowly put some distance between us and the Antarctic continent, the nights began to grow longer and the sky cleared. This was fantastic because it not only provided an amazing view of the starlit sky, but also provided a tantalising view of the phenomenon which the ship is named after, the Aurora Australis, or southern lights. The Aurora results from charged subatomic particles in solar wind interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field and giving off distinctive colours. I was elated to witness this before the expedition concluded with our return to Hobart in a few days.

Max’s V1 resupply blog

Maximilien Desservettaz is on V1 – diary from the Aurora Australis!

Today, Saturday 4th of November 2017, is day 7 on voyage 1 from Hobart to Davis and back onboard the Aurora Australis. It is the first day I have been able to sit down at my computer because of sea-sickness or the side effects of the sea-sickness patches and tablets.

On Sunday 29th of October, my birthday and day 1 of the voyage, the ship left Hobart and went to wait within Adventure Bay in the lee of Bruny Island. This one-and-a-half-day stop was to avoid up to 15m swell south of Tasmania. Some panic on my side as I could not locate the filters for the mercury sampling manifold. Eventually, an email from the instrument owner meant I could locate and set up the sampling, into the night.

From day 3, as we left the comfort of Adventure bay, my day was mostly alternating between lying in bed and feeding myself. I would do a quick run to the instruments ensuring they were still running before running back to lie on my bed.

Other than that, the ship is full, carrying the summer crew for Davis and Mawson stations. So many faces and names. I remember the faces, but so few names stick though.

Monday 13th of November. Approaching Davis. We’ve have been going through the ice for the last 3 days. Spectacular is insufficient to describe the landscapes that sea-ice and icebergs create. It is just mesmerising, and added to the ever-lasting daylight as we go south, I am starting to accumulate some sleep deficiency. But the crew on the bridge is getting to know me better.

Two days ago, on Saturday, we had some celebrations on-board. The newbies like me, who haven’t passed 60S on the ocean before were, upon approval, submitted to several rituals to appease King Neptune, protector of the southern-ocean. This was followed by 50 or so passengers running to shower and use the 3 washing machines. Those festivities were followed by an outdoor BBQ and a Special Occasion (this being our 1 opportunity for an alcohol drink on this leg of the voyage). I had been craving for a cider for over a week and it was all so worth it.

Another spectacular thing to witness is the wildlife. Though, most of it is recorded while being highly frightened by the passage of the ship. But it makes for some comical penguin runaway scenes.

The ice has been a much-welcomed sight for me, as the ocean seemed to be stretching on forever, and I was struggling to keep morale up. We are due to meet the fast-ice of Davis late tonight. Exciting times!

Antarctica in sight!



Sunday 19th of November. Our arrival on Tuesday morning was a record for the AAD. Less than 9 hours of breaking through the fast-ice, when it can sometimes take up to 5 days. Cargo and refuelling have also been very smooth. As of today, over half the RTA (return to Australia) cargo is already on-board, and we are due to leave on Tuesday.

But arriving at Davis has also meant a first abrupt, then more gradual depletion of the expeditioners still on board, from 105 on Tuesday down to 23 today. The ship feels empty. On top of this, strict regulations surrounding people’s movements during resupply operations have made things altogether quite difficult psychologically. I am very much homesick at the moment. Hopefully, as we turn around and start our journey back to the Australia, daily routines will resume onboard the Aurora Australis.

One last thing for today, the galley and its three chefs were already serving us delicious meals while the ship was full. But with now a quarter of passengers left, they are surpassing themselves making it really difficult not to overeat during meals!

Tuesday 28th of November. We turned around and left Davis behind a week ago. Three days or so to leave the realm of Antarctica and sea-ice before re-entering the open ocean. The ride so far has been very smooth – nothing compared to the way down. We have even got an ETA for “tie-up” to port: 10AM on Sunday. But our current speed will have us near Tasmania by Saturday afternoon. Probably another night anchored in Adventure bay, with access to mobile networks and therefore internet.

Round trippers and winterers returning together leaving only 24 passengers; less than a quarter compared to the 106 that we were going down south. The atmosphere is more relaxed and quiet. No longer the excitement of meeting Antarctica or the never-ending trainings and briefings. Yet, somehow, the days feel shorter. The instruments I am looking after have been running like clockwork, with the exception of the MAX-DOAS software trying to overwrite its own data – good thing that we do daily checks and data backups.

I finally, at the age of 27, got to witness my first Auroras. These are truly a spectacular phenomenon, but you cannot stop the scientist reminding oneself that we owe auroras to the solar wind bringing highly energised particles to interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, down the magnetic lines, to energise the molecules of the top of our atmosphere…