Scientists conduct research on moss beds in Antarctica. Photo by Emiliano Cimolini

New $36m Antarctic research endeavour opens

New $36m Antarctic research endeavour opens

Scientists seek to safeguard Antarctica to create a more sustainable future for all

The Australian Research Council initiative Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF) was launched today by the Member for Macnamara, Mr Josh Burns MP at Monash University. The opening coincides with SAEF scientists departing Hobart for Macquarie Island for the start of the 22/23 Antarctic field season.

SAEF is an ambitious new research and training program that will deliver leading Antarctic and Southern Ocean science to benefit Australians, our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific and society around the globe.

It brings together researchers from the University of Wollongong, Monash University, Queensland University of Technology, University of New South Wales, James Cook University, University of Adelaide, ANSTO, BOM, Geoscience Australia, Western Australian Museum, and South Australian Museum.

SAEF Director Professor Steven Chown from Monash University said climate change and expanded human activity are having significant impacts on Antarctica’s ice sheets, climate and ecosystems, resulting in sea level rise, more extreme weather events such as floods and bushfires, and losses to biodiversity in the Antarctic region and beyond.

“Antarctica and the Southern Ocean may seem like distant neighbours, but they are critical to the health of the planet and inseparable from our daily lives,” Professor Chown said. 

“A sustaining, liveable and diverse planet for current and future generations is dependent on knowledge about the Antarctic and maintaining peaceful geopolitics in the region. SAEF will help to deliver both through its leading research.”

SAEF Deputy Director Distinguished Professor Sharon Robinson from UOW said the program also seeks to contribute to the development of the Antarctic workforce of the future, across the domains of research, management and governance. This includes supporting around 100 early career researchers and women into Antarctic leadership roles

“The success and impact of Antarctic research rely on bringing together a community of diverse people with many perspectives. SAEF will provide opportunities so that they can connect with the international community and lead on global science and policy priorities,” Distinguished Professor Robinson said.

SAEF has been established through a $36 million grant from the Australian Research Council as part of the Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science. The research program includes over 30 university, government agency and private sector partners from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, Chile and South Africa.

As part of the program, a team of over 125 researchers and students will spend the next seven years working to understand the changes taking place across the Antarctic region—to its climate, environment and biodiversity—and develop innovative ways to forecast, mitigate and manage these changes.

The program will also seek to ensure that its science reaches policymakers so that it can be integrated into conservation and management strategies that can reduce the impact these changes—such as sea level rise and extreme weather events—have on people’s lives.

Professor Chown said that if we don’t meet the Paris Agreement targets, the rate of global change will outpace government and societal efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change and that this could undermine the Antarctic Treaty System that works to protect the region.

“Science lies at the heart of the Antarctic Treaty System, and as an original signatory and an influential contributor to this system, Australia can support environmental protection and the security of the region through exceptional science,” Professor Chown said. 

The official launch of the program coincides with the beginning of SAEF’s 22/23 Antarctic field season as part of the Australian Antarctic Science Program. On Friday 21 October, four SAEF researchers, including three PhD and Masters students, will depart Hobart for Macquarie Island.

They will spend six months on the remote sub-Antarctic island conducting biodiversity surveys and collecting samples to understand how life on the island is being impacted by climate change. A further 12 researchers are set to follow them to Casey Station in Antarctica in November and December.