Going undercover with a marine biologist

Sure, everybody wants to be a marine biologist. It’s a glamorous job: working on the ocean, diving off coral reefs, discovering a new species here, saving an endangered species there. It’s definitely a profession that would have you as the talk of the table at dinners and family barbeques.

But what you don’t often hear about is the behind the scenes work – the endless report writing, the rigorous trip planning, getting the smell of fish off your hands. Being a marine biologist is, at times, a thankless task.

Luckily for you, today we’re going to focus on the glamorous part.

Marine biologists from our Wealth from Oceans Flagship and The University of Western Australia recently took a trip to the coral reefs of the Pilbara region, in north Western Australia, where they were scouting survey sites for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership.

Platygyra coral form intricate patterns on a reef off the Southern Barrow Shoals. For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale.

Platygyra coral form intricate patterns on a reef off the Southern Barrow Shoals, West Pilbara.

This five year project is taking a snap-shot of the health of the marine ecosystems in this biodiversity hotspot, compiling a baseline of research data that will inform environmental and industrial monitoring programs. This data will underpin the Pilbara’s marine management and ensure long-term commercial and conservation sustainability in the region.

The Partnership is all about providing the science for sound decision making, and this research trip has put the process into practice.

Unfortunately, on the trip the research team found evidence of coral bleaching in the region due to some recent marine heatwaves, including the bleaching of a pocket of ancient coral heads – many up to 400 years old – that have provided an important record of reef health.

“We suspect this bleaching event was due to marine heatwaves that occurred in the region over the past few summers, and to see it up so close was sobering,” said our lead scientist on the project, Dr Russ Babcock.

“But to offset this loss, some reefs only a short distance north showed much less damage and will continue to contribute to a healthy ecosystem. By studying these sorts of variations and why they occur, we can improve our overall understanding of the marine environment in the region, and how we can best preserve it”.

The team managed to take some great images of the incredibly diverse flora and fauna that sits under the waters of the Pilbara. We asked Russ to run us through a few photos from the trip to give you an insight into the work of a marine biologist – and maybe even help you learn something in the process! Click on one of the images below to view the gallery.

“For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale,” says Russ.

Find out more about the Partnership here.

Do you see what I see?

By Adam Harper

630 kilometres may be a long way to travel for an eye check-up; but when those eyes are viewing landscapes at over 2,000 kilometres away and are responsible for millions of dollars worth of information supporting decisions on environmental management, farming practices and mineral exploration, it’s well worth the trip.

That’s exactly what CSIRO researchers did on a recent mission from Perth when they travelled out to Lake Lefroy (near Kalgoorlie) with colleagues from France, Israel, China and Japan. Their job was to make sure the information coming from several Earth observation satellites orbiting the globe is accurate; it’s a process called vicarious calibration.

And this time, their space communication mission went space age.

Our 'Outback Rover’ is helping scientists improve the accuracy of satellites.

Our ‘Outback Rover’ is helping scientists improve the accuracy of satellites.

Nicknamed the ‘Outback Rover’, this vehicle may look like a cousin to R2-D2 from Star Wars, but it is a prototype from CSIRO, which could enable future calibration missions to be conducted remotely.

CSIRO Research Scientist, Dr Alberto Elfes, said: “Outback Rover could potentially be operating out here at Lake Lefroy on its own while researchers back in their home cities or even countries oversee its movements to take various measurements. These are then fed wirelessly and instantly back to the researchers, saving hours if not days of travel and field work.”

For more information about the Outback Rover and the recent mission to Lake Lefroy, check out this video:

View the transcript. 

Robots, radar and exploding gummy bears

As part of National Science Week, the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies – affectionately known as QCAT – is inviting members of the public to a special Open Day to celebrate 20 years of research in Pullenvale.

Showcasing the amazing science and technology developed at the centre, the day will include shows from CSIRO Education, as well as demonstrations, displays and discussions on technologies that are transforming Australia’s industries.

Meet Dr Rob from TV’s SCOPE science show, talk to our experts about the latest innovations in energy, mining and robotics, see the labs and discover what amazing work is going on in your neighbourhood.

Dr Rob

Dr Rob will be doing some ‘scien-terrific’ experiments for all the family to enjoy… gummy bear beware! (credit: courtesy of SCOPE, Channel Ten)

QCAT’s Executive Manager, Dr Michael Brünig, says Australia’s best and brightest scientists are eager to share their knowledge and experience with the community.

“From developing the world’s biggest robot to the world’s most accurate underground longwall coal mining guidance system, research coming out of QCAT has been at the forefront of Australia’s innovation for the past two decades,” said Dr Brünig.

“We want everyone who visits the Open Day to help us celebrate this milestone by leaving with at least one ‘wow’ moment. Whether that happens by talking to our researchers, watching Dr Rob blow up a gummy bear or touring labs by remote control with our robot, there is sure to be a ‘scien-terrific’ experience for everyone.”

Robots to delight: check out the aerial drones being developed on site.

Robots to delight: check out the aerial drones being developed on site.

Highlights include:

  • Science shows for all the family at 11.30am, 12.30pm and 1.30pm
  • Stealth robots and unmanned aerial vehicles
  • 3D mapping and clever navigation systems
  • Public lectures in the auditorium
  • Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) hypersonic research
  • Displays from Rio Tinto Alcan and Metso Process Technology and Innovation
  • A chance to win one of seven Raspberry Pi® mini-computers that you can code at home.

For more information visit www.csiro.au/QCAT-OpenDay.

What: Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies Open Day
When: 10am to 3pm, Saturday 17 August 2013
Where: 1 Technology Court, Pullenvale 4069 (located at on the corner of Moggill Road and Bainbridge Drive, Pullenvale)

Important information for visitors: QCAT is an industrial research facility and so for safety reasons, visitors are advised to wear closed footwear (i.e. no thongs, clogs or sandals).

About the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies

The Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies (QCAT) is Australia’s largest integrated research and development precinct for the resources and associated advanced technology industries.

Officially opened in 1993, QCAT was established as a cooperative venture between CSIRO and the State of Queensland as a centre of excellence in mining research, iron ore and coal processing, energy research, autonomous systems and social science.

Along with CSIRO, QCAT also houses the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and commercial tenants Applied Mining Technologies Pty Ltd, BHP Billiton Carbon Steel Technical Marketing Group, CET Group, GeoTek Solutions, Metso and Rio Tinto Alcan Queensland Research and Development Centre.

QCAT has over 380 workers on site, making it one of the largest centres of employment in the region.

Take a bite at the Bight – and its deep ocean ecosystem

One of the many animals collected from the Bight’s deep water column, the unusual amphipod (genus Phronima) – a type of crustacean.

One of the many animals collected from the Bight’s deep water column, the unusual amphipod (genus Phronima) – a type of crustacean.

At the surface, it is home to white sharks, southern bluefin tuna, and marine mammals including blue whales and sealions – the images that make the Great Australian Bight a vast and iconic Australian ocean region.

Down deep there’s another lesser known world – and a frontier area for marine science, plus oil and gas exploration. Although we know that more than 85 per cent of shallow Bight species (such as those mentioned above) can be found nowhere else in the world, very little is known about their deep water counterparts.

We recently returned from 20 days exploring deep waters of the Bight – the first voyage supporting our recently announced science collaboration with BP and Marine Innovation Southern Australia (MISA, a consortium of South Australia’s major marine research institutions, including the South Australian Research and Development Institute, University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the South Australian Museum); a collaboration aimed at gaining a greater scientific understanding of the Bight.

In the video below meet CSIRO’s Mark Lewis and see our research in action.

In one of only a few whole-of-ecosystem studies undertaken in Australia, CSIRO and MISA are providing information to decision makers in industry and government to support sustainable development in the Bight and monitor possible future impacts.

Aboard Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, the Southern Surveyor (check out a virtual tour of the ship), we surveyed the Bight in depths of 200 to 2000 metres – collecting the deepest set of samples ever taken from the area.

Using a range of equipment, we collected samples of fauna from the seabed and the water column such as fishes, crustaceans (shrimp and crabs) and echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers) and phytoplankton (single-celled plants).  These included unusual species like the bizarre amphipod Phronima (see picture above) and this deep sea crab (below).

One of the many animals collected from the Bight’s deep seabed, we think it could be a new species but we’re checking (it is similar to Ebalia tuberculosa).

One of the many animals collected from the Bight’s deep seabed, we think it could be a new species but we’re checking (it is similar to Ebalia tuberculosa).

We also collected a great variety of environmental information, including acoustic data that will help map the seabed and determine if oil seeps are present. We used what’s called an integrated coring platform (ICP), pictured below, which collects sediment cores from the seabed plus acoustic measurements (we recently blogged about this piece of gear).

Matt Sherlock with the Integrated Coring Platform (ICP). This instrument is lowered to the seafloor, where it collects a set of six sediment cores, along with a water sample. On the way down, and the way back up, it also collects information on the presence of hydrocarbons, and sends out an acoustic signal (much like that of a depth sounder on a boat) to measure fish and plankton presence.

CSIRO electrical engineer, Matt Sherlock with the Integrated Coring Platform (ICP). This instrument is lowered to the seafloor, where it collects a set of six sediment cores, along with a water sample. On the way down, and the way back up, it also collects information on the presence of hydrocarbons, and sends out an acoustic signal (much like that of a depth sounder on a boat) to measure fish and plankton presence.

There is a reason that we’re collecting all of these wonderful critters, samples and data – it will help us understand the composition, distribution and number of species in the Bight, and the ways in which they are influenced by the environment around them. This will be vital information for any potential development in the Bight.

All of this information contributes to an ecosystem model, which will help CSIRO, MISA and BP understand how the ecosystem could change with, for example, future development or exploration (for oil and gas for example), allowing industry and government to plan for future activities in the region in an informed way.

Survey results will be made available to decision makers in industry and government – to help evaluate the needs for future ecological monitoring as oil and gas activities accelerate and expand in Australia’s deep ocean.

Read more about our Great Australian Bight collaboration with BP and MISA.

Mark Green with a recently collected sediment core from the Bight, which will be used to assess the fauna present in the sediments. These are some of the deepest samples ever collected from the Great Australian Bight.

CSIRO ecologist, Mark Green with a recently collected sediment core from the Bight, which will be used to assess the fauna present in the sediments. These are some of the deepest samples ever collected from the Great Australian Bight.

Last but not least – another amazing piece of gear – the conductivity, temperature, depth sensor (CTD) with niskin bottles (water sampling bottles) for collecting water samples. The instrument is lowered to just above the seabed, recording data on salinity, temperature, oxygen levels, and fluorescence (an indicator of phytoplankton presence) all the way.  Niskin bottles are then fired at specified depths on the way up to collect water samples for detailed analysis of hydrocarbons, phytoplankton and nutrients.

Last but not least – another amazing piece of gear – the conductivity, temperature, depth sensor (CTD) with niskin bottles (water sampling bottles) for collecting water samples. The instrument is lowered to just above the seabed, recording data on salinity, temperature, oxygen levels, and fluorescence (an indicator of phytoplankton presence) all the way. Niskin bottles are then fired at specified depths on the way up to collect water samples for detailed analysis of hydrocarbons, phytoplankton and nutrients.

Hi-tech turtles

This satellite-tagged turtle will signal its position each time the aerial breaks the sea surface.

This satellite-tagged turtle will signal its position each time the aerial breaks the sea surface.

By Keirissa Lawson

We all know that the sewers of New York City, with their proximity to pizza shops and evil villains, provide a thriving habitat for teenage mutant ninja turtles.

But how much do we know about the habitat and movement of real turtles?

Scientists from CSIRO and the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, led by CSIRO’s Dr Mat Vanderklift, are capturing and tagging green sea turtles in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area off Western Australia, to gain a better understanding of sea turtle ecology.

“This is the first time turtle tagging studies of this kind have been conducted in the Ningaloo area,” said Dr Vanderklift. “Understanding where the turtles forage for food and how far they roam will provide invaluable information for ongoing management of these iconic animals in this World Heritage Area.”

Since February this year, Dr Vanderklift and his team have fitted 17 green sea turtles with acoustic tags which track the movement of the turtles as they pass by specialised listening stations in Mangrove Bay. Another two turtles from the same area have been fitted with satellite tags. Each time the aerial on the tag breaks the sea surface a signal is sent to a satellite and used to pinpoint the turtle’s position.

Each captured turtle has its vital statistics measured and logged before being tagged and released.

Each captured turtle has its vital statistics measured and logged before being tagged and released.

The tags, attached to the turtle’s carapace (shell), will give scientists an insight into the range and foraging patterns of these threatened marine reptiles. In addition, scientists are using remote underwater video to observe turtle behaviour up close.

“So far we have looked at more than 140 hours of video and have found that turtles tend to spend quite a lot of time in seaweed patches in the lagoon during the day,” said Dr Vanderklift.

Local students from Exmouth Primary School are getting behind the turtle tagging study and will name the two satellite-tagged turtles.

You too can follow the turtles’ tracks in near-real time.

Dr Mat Vanderklift releasing a tagged green sea turtle.

Dr Mat Vanderklift releasing a tagged green sea turtle.

This project is a partnership between CSIRO, the Western Australian Departments of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and Fisheries (DoF) and the Cape Conservation Group. The research is supported by funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Caring for our Country initiative.

Starbug found!

Starbug, safe and beached as.

Starbug, safe and beached as.

Yesterday we reported a case of a missing robot. The autonomous underwater submarine, also known as Starbug, didn’t arrive back at its expected location after mapping seagrass in Moreton Bay off Brisbane, Queensland. It may sound like an escape, an Apple Maps fail or a timely publicity stunt on the day of Ringo Starr’s Brisbane show. But seriously, we were missing a little yellow submarine. We are delighted to report that Starbug was found today on Gonzales Beach, Moreton Island. Starbug will be transported back to the mainland tomorrow and reunited with its creator, robotics researcher Matt Dunbabin. Matt is a happy man!

Many thanks to the friendly rangers of Queensland Parks and Wildlife who found Starbug on the beach and initiated its safe return. If Starbug’s stolen your heart, read a little more about our Autonomous Underwater Vehicle research.

Ice ice baby: ships and Antarctic voyages

French supply ship and penguins

The French supply ship L’Astrolabe taking a ‘break’ in sea ice en route from Hobart to the French Antarctic base, Dumont D’Urville. Credit: Dale Kolody

By Craig Macaulay

When you rely on shipping in the polar regions as a platform to conduct scientific research the extent of sea ice is very much a consideration in planning.

Sea ice has been a big issue this season for the French Antarctic re-supply vessel, the 65-metre  L’Astrolabe, and it has been well and truly on the radar of CSIRO project leaders who have collaborative research programs on the ship with their French colleagues. Because the vessel operates along the same route between Hobart and the French Antarctic  base of Dumont D’Urville, L’Astrolabe is attractive as a platform for science during its four return voyages each season.

The voyages allow French and Australian researchers to make clear comparisons on water properties through the spring-summer supply months during what has been a very successful and long-running collaborative program, supported in recent years through Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System.

The journey from Hobart to Dumont D’Urville takes six days, presuming there is little sea ice along the route. The challenge for the ship’s Master is always to find a lead through the sea ice circling the continent, to reach the base.

Throughout this season the ship has encountered heavy ice in East Antarctica, and on January 23 the decision was made to halt science programs because of the ongoing disruption to the ship’s schedule.

Similar conditions will face the larger New Zealand vessel Tangaroa, which leaves Wellington on February 2 carrying three deep ocean moorings intended for deployment in the Mertz Polynya region.

Built by engineering staff at CSIRO’s Hobart Marine Laboratories in 2012, the moorings were shipped to New Zealand before Christmas for loading on the Tangaroa, in voyage, that will be carrying 22 Australian, New Zealand and French on a 42-day voyage to the Mertz Polynya region, one of a few places in the world where the densest ocean waters form.

Among staff from CSIRO will be Beatriz Pena-Molino, Peter Hughes, Kate Berry , Sue Reynolds and CSIRO-Utas student, Eva Cougnon. Elizabeth Shadwick and Mark Rosenberg  from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystem CRC also will support the voyage science.


A polynya. Image: Flickr / Seabamirum

A polynya is an area of open water surrounded by sea ice. Polynyas are kept free of sea ice by the wind, which constantly blows away any ice that tries to form. The formation of sea ice creates heavier saltier water, which then sinks and spreads to fill the bottom of the global ocean. This means it has a significant influence on global ocean circulation.

Steve Rintoul and moorings

Steve Rintoul with one of the $100,000 deep ocean moorings that will be deployed in polar waters.

In 2010, the tongue of Antarctica’s Mertz Glacier was rammed by a huge iceberg, causing much of the tongue to break away. Scientists want to study the impact of this massive change to the Mertz Glacier on the surrounding environment.

This region is one of three unique places around Antarctica which control the properties of the deep ocean – thus the breaking ice tongue could have wider impacts on global ocean circulation. To study the changes in the ocean, the scientists will use a suite of underwater cameras, moorings and sensors.

Hobart’s Steve Rintoul is the leader of the Australian team on the Tangaroa voyage.

“When we speak of global warming, we really mean ocean warming:  more than 90% of the extra heat energy stored by the earth over the last 50 years has gone into warming up the ocean.  The Southern Ocean is particularly important because it stores more heat and carbon dioxide released by human activities than any other region, and so helps to slow the rate of climate change.

“Our earlier research in this region has shown that rapid changes are underway in the deep ocean, but we are not yet sure what is driving the changes. The measurements collected on the Tangaroa voyage will be used to test the hypothesis that increased melt of Antarctic ice is driving changes we see in the deep ocean,” Dr Rintoul said.

But first they have to get there.

Aurora Australis has been the platform for much of Australia’s Southern Ocean marine science programs.  The Australian Government is taking the first steps towards replacing the ship that has been supporting Antarctic and Southern Ocean programs for 23 years.  

In February 2012, Steve Rintoul was interviewed by colleague Nick Roden aboard Aurora Australis and discussed the many and varied aspects of Southern Ocean research:

Fish ear bones point to climate impacts

Scientists believe that fish ear bones and their distinctive growth rings can offer clues to the likely impacts of climate change in aquatic environments.

The earbones, or ‘otoliths’, help fish detect movement and orient themselves in the water. Otoliths set down annual growth rings that can be measured and counted to estimate the age and growth rates of fish.

Magnified thin section taken from the otolith of a five year old tiger flathead caught in eastern Bass Strait.

“Otoliths can form the basis of new techniques for modelling fish growth, productivity and distribution in future environments,” said Dr John Morrongiello of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship, lead author of a paper published online in Nature Climate Change.

“They are widely used to support fishery stock assessments, and are beginning to be used to measure and predict ecological responses to ocean warming and climate change.

“Millions of otoliths are archived in research laboratories and museums worldwide, and many fish species live for decades and some, such as orange roughy, live for up to 150 years.

“Their otoliths record variations in growth rates that reflect environmental conditions. Longer-lived fish and older samples take us back as far as the 1800s.”

Magnified thin section taken from the otolith of an eight year old golden perch caught in Lake Eppalock.

The paper, co-authored by Dr Ron Thresher and Dr David Smith of CSIRO, builds on earlier research by Dr Thresher that identified the potential of using fish ‘hard parts’ (such as otoliths) and deep ocean corals to understand environmental change. It outlines a framework in which Australian research institutions can analyse hard parts and assess past and future impacts on a range of species.

In the next research phase, scientists at CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Adelaide will study selected species of commercial interest, including tiger flathead, black bream, blue gropers, barramundi and tropical snappers.

“We will use otoliths to investigate the environmental drivers of fish growth for many species around Australia,” Dr Morrongiello said.

“This will allow us to generate a continental-scale evaluation of climate change impacts on Australia’s fishes and help to guide the conservation and management of our aquatic environments into the future.”

Dr Thresher said there had already been extensive use of hard part archives from corals to reflect on climate variability, such as El Niño events, and to reconstruct environmental histories.

“Any change identified in growth and age maturity, especially of commercially-important species, clearly has implications for forecasting future stock states and the sustainable management of fisheries,” Dr Thresher said.

“A better ability to predict such change will greatly enhance our ability to forecast, manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change in marine and freshwater systems.”

Media: Bryony Bennett. Phone: +61 3 6232 5261 Alt Phone: +61 3 6232 5222 Email: Bryony.Bennett@csiro.au

Looking for link between Indonesian Throughflow and Australian climate

CSIRO scientists are heading to the Ombai Strait and Timor Passage to collect data vital to understanding how an ocean current in the region affects Australia’s climate and weather.

Almost two years ago CSIRO oceanographers deployed moorings in one of Australia’s and globally important ocean currents, the Indonesian Throughflow, which connects the Pacific and Indian Oceans through the complex system of islands.

The moorings will be recovered, their data will be uploaded to the ship’s computers and then they will be returned to the water for a further 18 months.

Leading the research team on board Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel Southern Surveyor, is oceanographer Dr Bernadette Sloyan who is a specialist in ocean circulation with CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship.

“The heat and fresh water carried by the Indonesian Throughflow are known to affect both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and so understanding the physical and chemical make-up is important for the future management of natural resource,” Dr Sloyan said.

Dr Bernadette Sloyan next to moorings that were deployed along the East Australian Current earlier this year, as part of the IMOS network. The moorings in the Ombai Strait and Timor passage are also part of the IMOS funded network.

“The current consists of several different layers that occur at different depths, which weave their way through the complex island network; where there are a variety of seabed landscapes affecting the currents, from broad shallow shelves to deep basins.

“We know very little about how this ocean current changes across the seasons and this will be the first time we look at data from these moorings, which have been in place for two years.”

The moorings consist of sensors recording temperature, salinity, and ocean current,   spanning the region from the continental margin to off-shore in water depths of over three kilometres.

These moorings are part of the Australian Government funded Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). Given the importance of the Indonesian Throughflow to Australia’s climate, IMOS intends to undertake long-term monitoring of the two main passages.

Dr Sloyan said IMOS has provided over $1 million in funding to support this work, which will complement existing IMOS observations being collected from the Northwest shelf, Great Barrier Reef, and the East Australian Current.

The research team will also conduct oceanographic sampling and mapping work to create a three-dimensional image of the sea floor in sections of the Timor Passage and the Ombai Strait in the area of the moorings.

The work is being undertaken with the cooperation of Timor-Leste, who will have two observers on the research voyage.

Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor, is owned and operated by CSIRO, and is available to all Australian scientists.

Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor.

Southern Surveyor Open for Free Public Tours 12-14 October 2012
Southern Surveyor will return to Darwin on Wednesday 10 October and will be open for free public tours from 12-14 October at Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin.
Places for tours are strictly limited. Bookings can be made by emailing linda.gaskell@csiro.au
Things you need to know before booking:

  • While you’re on the tour you need to wear closed-toed shoes like joggers, so bring them along and pop them on before you come on board. Sorry no thongs or sandals.
  • No children 10 years of age or under.
  • Children 11-15 years must be accompanied by a supervising adult.
  • Stairways and gangways throughout the ship are narrow and steep
  • Southern Surveyor is air conditioned


Sarah Schofield

03 6232 5197

0417 028 016


How carbon is stored in the Southern Ocean

A team of British and Australian scientists has discovered how carbon is drawn down from the surface of the Southern Ocean to the deep waters beneath.

The Southern Ocean is an important carbon sink in the world – around 40 per cent of the annual global CO2 emissions absorbed by the world’s oceans enter through this region.

Reporting this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the CSIRO, reveal that rather than carbon being absorbed uniformly into the deep ocean in vast areas, it is drawn down and locked away from the atmosphere by plunging currents a thousand kilometres wide.

Winds, currents and massive whirlpools that carry warm and cold water around the ocean – known as eddies – create localised pathways or funnels for carbon to be stored.

Dr Jean-Baptiste Sallée, formerly of CSIRO and now with the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge​.

Lead author, Dr Jean-Baptiste Sallée from British Antarctic Survey says, “The Southern Ocean is a large window by which the atmosphere connects to the interior of the ocean below. Until now we didn’t know exactly the physical processes of how carbon ends up being stored deep in the ocean. It’s the combination of winds, currents and eddies that create these carbon-capturing pathways drawing waters down into the deep ocean from the ocean surface.”

“Now that we have an improved understanding of the mechanisms for carbon draw-down we are better placed to understand the effects of changing climate and future carbon absorption by the ocean.”

CSIRO co-author, Dr Richard Matear says the rate-limiting step in the anthropogenic carbon uptake by the ocean is the physical transport from the surface into the ocean interior.

“Our study identifies these pathways for the first time and this matches well with observationally–derived estimates of carbon storage in the ocean interior,” Dr Matear says.

Dr Richard Matear, Research Scientist, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

Due to the size and remote location of the Southern Ocean, scientists have only recently been able to explore the workings of the ocean with the help of small robotic probes – known as Argo floats. In 2002, 80 floats were deployed in the Southern Ocean to collect information on the temperature and salinity. This unique set of observations spanning 10 years has enabled scientists to investigate this remote region of the world for the first time.

The floats are just over a metre in length and dive to depths of 2km. Today, there are over 3000 floats in the oceans worldwide providing detailed information used in oceanic climate models.

The team also analysed temperature, salinity and pressure data collected from ship-based observations since the 1990s. The instrument used for this is called a CTD profiler which is a cluster of sensors taking measurements as it’s lowered deep down into the ocean to depths of more than 7km.

The work was supported through the Wealth from Oceans and Australian Climate Change Science Programs, and the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre program.

More at CSIRO Media HERE

Rich rewards from field trip to northern Australia

Pungalina Field Trip Report from :

Gen Perkins, Justin Perry, Eric Vanderduys, Anders Zimny. CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Townsville.

In late June, the CES Biodiversity Group based in Townsville, packed up their traps, swags, quad-bikes and pushbikes and headed to the NT to participate in the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland’s (RGSQ) 2012 scientific study.

This took place on Pungalina-Seven Emu, two adjacent properties owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC).

The purpose of these RGSQ studies is to get researchers from a wide range of disciplines together to gather as much data about a (remote) area as possible. RGSQ look after the logistics – the researchers look after their area of expertise. The data collected will add to AWC’s understanding of biodiversity on Pungalina-Seven Emu and help contribute to the conservation and management of the property.

Pungalina-Seven Emu is located on the coast in the Gulf of Carpentaria (see above) and has an incredibly diverse range of habitats including coastal mangroves and salt flats, dune rainforests, paperbark swamps, tall eucalypt woodlands as well as low spinifex covered sandstone escarpments.

The team spent two weeks exploring the range of habitats within the 306,000ha property and documenting terrestrial vertebrate species – birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Despite the tropical landscape, it was cold (down to 4oC on some nights!) which reduced animal activity to some extent. Nevertheless, the team found at least 147 vertebrate species, including the very restricted, poorly known and vulnerable Carpentarian Pseudantechinus (Pseudantechinus mimulus), the vulnerable Ghost Bat (Australia’s largest predatory bat), and one, possibly two, new species of lizard.

They managed to keep their distance from some particularly large “lizards” which inhabit the waters of the Gulf!

Safety observation – Eric Vanderduys (centre) demonstrates to Anders Zimny (left) how Justin Perry (not in photo) was eaten by a crocodile. Gen Perkins (right) is just keen to get away.
Photo: Justin Perry.

A striped skink from the genus Ctenotus. This may be a new species.
Photo: Eric Vanderduys.

The very rare Carpentarian Pseudantechinus.
Photo: Anders Zimny.

A Ghost Bat contemplates eating its first human.
Photo: Eric Vanderduys.

A burrowing skink called Lerista. This is probably a new species.
Photo: Anders Zimny.

Examining part of a haul of 12 goannas of two species caught in under an hour.
Photo: Anders Zimny.

Australia leads on Southern Ocean carbon dioxide monitoring

Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor, returns to the Southern Ocean this week in a pilot project to measure the air-sea exchange of heat, moisture, carbon dioxide and oxygen in the sub-Antarctic ocean, and at the same time to test the continuing ability of moored instruments to withstand the roughest ocean conditions anywhere.

Managed by CSIRO, Southern Surveyor will deploy three moored measuring systems to be anchored at a depth of nearly five kilometres, or four times the height of Hobart’s Mt Wellington, about 580km south-west of Tasmania.

The moorings form part of the Australian Government funded Integrated Marine Observing System, providing enhanced monitoring in the Southern Ocean.

The moored instruments include a $1m weather station (managed by the Bureau of Meteorology), a specialist biogeochemical sensor and sampler mooring developed by CSIRO, and a deep sea sinking particle flux mooring provided by the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre.

Southern Surveyor

The voyage’s Chief Scientist, Professor Tom Trull, from CSIRO, the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania , said the project was the only one of its type in the Southern Ocean.

“While the Southern Ocean plays a significant role in the global climate system, there is a paucity of sustained observations in this harsh and remote region. These high quality observations are a valuable contribution to understanding ocean processes that contribute to climate variability.

“The ability of the ocean to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and remove it to ocean depths is a natural process but the rate of that exchange and its influence on other chemical and biological properties in the ocean is now a central climate science question.

Bureau of Meteorology engineer, Eric Schultz, and Chief Scientist, Tom Trull, with the $1m weather station being deployed in the Southern Ocean as part of a project. The station is one of three moorings being deployed in the sub-Antarctic.

“We know the sub-Antarctic ocean is a hotspot for uptake of carbon dioxide and deployment of these mooring systems over the next 18 months will give us an insight into changes occurring from day-to-day and season-to-season in the upper ocean and at the sea surface.

“The results we obtain will be of interest around the world to climate and carbon cycle scientists,” Professor Trull said. Professor Trull will be available for interviews and pictures with the moorings on Wednesday, July 11 at 10am.

For more information and to arrange interviews:

Miranda Harman, ACE CRC Communications and Media Manager +61 3 6226-2265 +419 507 268


Ahh, go for Indian Ocean float deployment

The ability of oceanographers to study how the Indian Ocean shapes Australian and global climate was helped this week by the arrival in Hobart of a 20-metre South African yacht to take on board a new suite of Argo ocean measuring floats for deployment in the next three months.

The Lady Amber, skippered by Captain Peter Flanagan, has been under charter to CSIRO to seed the Indian Ocean with Argo profilers, in a region east and south of territory where there is known pirate activity.  The yacht will take on around 5 to 10  profilers in Hobart for deployment on her return journey to South Africa.

With an Argo profiler, CSIRO oceanographer and co-Chair of the international Argo ocean research program , Dr Susan Wijffels, with the Master of the Lady Amber, Capt Peter Flanagan (right) and to her left crew, Ryan Struthers, Helen McLean and Rika Botha.

The yacht’s arrival coincides with a new study published this week in Nature Climate Change revealing an upward trend of global ocean warming spanning at least 100 years.

Nearly 3200 Argo profilers report every 10 days on ocean conditions, providing a global map of temperature and  salinity for the upper two kilometres of ocean.  Australia is the second largest contributor to the international Argo program, behind the United States, with nearly 400 active floats operating  in the Indian Ocean and Southern Oceans and Tasman Sea.

The profilers also give observations critical to Australia’s ocean forecast system, operated by the Bureau of Meteorology.

Last year US and Australian naval vessels deployed instruments nearer the Horn of Africa where gaps existed in the global fleet as a result of pirates operating in the region.

According to Dr Susan Wijffels, co-Chair of the international Argo project, distribution of the profiling instruments is a real challenge for oceanographers.

“With shipping companies consolidating their routes and our need to have instruments operating roughly every 300  kms, the charter of the Lady Amber has been critical for us to fill fleet gaps in the Indian Ocean,” Dr Wijffels said.

“The oceans are the fly wheel of our climate system  and the international Argo program now provides 3,000 ocean watch towers from which to observe how the ocean is changing year-to-year and decade-to-decade.”

She said the latest published results showing the ocean warming trend extended back 100 years helps vindicates the investment of more than 30 countries in this volunteer observing program. The warming has been detected, grading from .59-degree Celsius at the surface to .12-degree Celsius at 900m depth.

The program is  coordinated through the UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organisation’s  Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology.  Australia’s contribution is through the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Research Flagship and Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System.  The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has a regional office in Perth, funded jointly through the Federal and West Australian governments.

French scientist, who coordinates Argo support, said that after a decade of implementation using mainly research vessels and merchants ships, global observing programmes are now investigating green, flexible, free or non-profit based, and dedicated deployment platforms. Lady Amber may take on more Argo profilers in Indian.  Plans for operations in the South Atlantic Ocean are already under study.

Media: Craig Macaulay. Ph: 03 6232 5219. E: craig.macaulay@csiro.au Mb: 0419 966 465

Bermagui under envionmental ‘blitz’

A bunch (what is the collective noun?) of scientists and locals from Bermagui on the NSW south coast are going to “blitz” the area next weekend (March 30/31) to try and find out just what makes up their local environment.

Called the Bermagui Bioblitz, the explorers will comb the foreshore, sand dunes, forest, estuary and mangroves to discover which species are present, and make detailed descriptions of what they find. They will use cameras, smartphones and laptops to photograph and record their findings.

The data and photos will then be uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia, where it is freely accessible to everyone. The ALA is a partnership between the CSIRO and a number of organisations, that provides a national database of Australia’s biodiversity.

The Atlas is a versatile tool that is valuable to both scientists and ‘citizen scientists’. Citizen scientists will love the ability use the Atlas to explore the flora and fauna already discovered in their neighbourhood, and to be able to add their observations to the database.

Scientists can use the Atlas to find detailed information, records and images about Australia’s flora and fauna, and to view the recorded information spatially.

A great way to access all this information is on a smartphone via the mobile website. If the smartphone has a built-in GPS, the Atlas can use it to find wildlife around your current location.

For up to date information you can follow ALA on twitter, read their blog, or if you are a budding ‘citizen scientist’ keen to get involved, you can set up an account and start contributing.

Work starts on new marine research vessel

Work on Australia’s new $120 million Marine National Facility research vessel, Investigator, moved from the drafting table to the shipyard today.

Cutting the steel for the vessel started in Singapore, heralding a new era in marine and atmospheric research for scientists.

Australia’s ocean territory is the third largest in the world and includes unique biodiversity and valuable resources and marine science is critical for the sustainable management of our ocean assets.

Not an exact representation of the new vessel – but this gives you an idea of how she will look.

The Executive Director of the Future Research Vessel Project at CSIRO, Toni Moate, who is attending the steel cutting ceremony in Singapore, said the 93.6 metre research vessel will be capable of conducting marine research from our coastal waters, to the Antarctic ice edge and to the tropical waters to the north.

The contract to design, build and commission the vessel was awarded to Teekay Holdings Australia, which partnered with the Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore because of its track record and strong commitment to new technologies and innovation.

“The equipment on board our new world-class vessel will for the first time allow Australian scientists to carry out advanced atmospheric research on board the Marine National Facility,” Ms Moate said.

“It will also be capable of mapping the seafloor six kilometres below the surface, conducting deep water coring to 24 metres and it will have the latest satellite communications technology.”

Investigator will be operated by CSIRO and will be available to all Australian marine scientists. It replaces the existing Marine National Facility ship, Southern Surveyor, which is 40 years old.

In 2009 the Australian Government committed AU$120 million to the purchase of a new research vessel for the Marine National Facility. The project is an initiative of the Australian Government being conducted as part of the Super Science Initiative and financed from the Education Investment Fund.

Media: Sarah Schofield. Ph: +61 3 6232 5197. Mb: 0417 028 016. E: sarah.schofield@csiro.au


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,870 other followers