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The challenge

The Antarctic plays a key role in the Earth's climate and ocean systems.

The Antarctic is an exceptional region of the world. Onshore, Antarctica is the world's driest, coldest and windiest continent. Offshore, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which flows from west to east between Australia and Antarctica, is the world's largest ocean current. These attributes make the Antarctic a highly unique, as well as challenging, environment in which to study the atmosphere and ocean.

The Antarctic plays a key role in the Earth's climate and ocean system, with implications for sea level rise and the pace of regional and global climate change. This makes improved scientific understanding of the region of critical value.

Our response

Braving hostile conditions to improve our understanding of the Antarctic region

Our scientists work in extreme conditions (including temperatures down to -50 degrees Celsius and swells of up to 10 metres) to undertake a range of research projects. Data collected in the field and from other sources is also used in modelling efforts to deepen understanding. Our research includes:

The ice front at Totten Glacier, East Antarctica.

  • Using high resolution models to explore the dynamics and variability of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), including changes in the pathway and temperatures of the ACC.
  • Exploring what controls the delivery of ocean heat to the Antarctic ice shelves, which impacts the melting of the ice shelves and, in turn, global sea level.
  • Using a combination of shipboard data, float observations and satellite data to quantify variability and trends in ocean circulation and water mass formation in the Southern Ocean.
  • Improving projections of global ocean heat content and sea level change by 
    • Quantifying the amount of heat entering the Southern Ocean and the associated sea level change, and
    • Refining sea level projections based on updated observations and projections of the Antarctic Ice Sheet contribution, together with other sea level contributions.
  • Using of a range of novel technologies and sensors to improve our knowledge about Antarctic waters over a range of spatial and temporal scales.
  • Improving ocean forecasting to support operations by the Australian Defence Force and Customs in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters.
  • Conducting atmospheric observations to monitor the composition and chemistry of the atmosphere in the Australian region and globally. We extend this information into the pre-observation period using air samples from Antarctic ice cores, and firn (the layer of granulated snow that forms the intermediate stage between snow and glacial ice).
  • Continued research into the role played by the Antarctic and Southern Oceans on the weather and climate of our region and the globe.
  • Maintaining an extensive array of ocean carbon observation platforms (including moorings, Saildrones and ship-based) in Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters.

Many of our research projects which require physical sampling are made possible through the utilisation of Australia's blue water research vessel, the RV Investigator, which is capable of travelling to Antarctica's ice edge. We also conduct research on collaborator vessels and ships of opportunity.

We work closely with the Australian Antarctic Division (who have national responsibility to lead and manage research in Australia's polar and Antarctic waters), several Australian universities, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), and international partners. A number of the above projects are delivered through the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Ocean Research, which is a partnership between CSIRO, the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (QLNM), the University of NSW, and the University of Tasmania.

The science of oceans

More information about our oceans research can be found on our website.

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