Greens propose boost to funding for Antarctic and Southern Ocean marine research

Hobart as an important scientific hub and gateway for Antarctic and southern ocean marine research, not only for Australia but for other national scientific expeditions. That is the vision of a new policy initiative launched by the Greens today to boost the research and logistics capacity of Australian Antarctic, climate and marine scientists based in Hobart.

Tasmania presently hosts the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research centre (ACE CRC) , the Australian Antarctic Division, along with CSIRO's Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research. But funding for the ACE CRC will come to an end in the next year. The University of Tasmania, CSIRO and ACE CRC are currently working on a proposal for a new Antarctic research organisation.

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean influence the regional and global climate and in this period of climate change understanding the mechanisms and changes taking place will provide valuable information for climate adaptation. Temperatures are increasing at 3 times the global average on West Antarctica, ice streams are accelerating ice mass loss with the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet a real possibility in the decades and centuries ahead. The Southern ocean is warming and freshening at a much faster rate than the global ocean. The food web in the southern ocean is changing with Penguin numbers suffering with krill decline due to Global Warming

To understand these processes requires scientific research in an often hostile environment. Supporting our scientists is an expensive operation. But funding the research also provides a boost for the Tasmanian economy. In 2009-10 about $150million was injected into the Tasmanian economy predominantly through Hobart. The sector employs at least 830 people of which about 650 are engaged in research activities. Undertaking this research also contributes to Australia's global scientific reputation.

To reduce costs and increase transit to Australian Antarctic bases, in 2007 Australia built a runway - Wilkins "international' airport - carved from glacial ice each year for passengers to access Casey base. But warm Summer conditions melt parts of the runway and reduce the period when wheeled aircraft can utilise the runway and the number of flights available. The anticipated 20 flights a year has turned into 2 to 6 flights, with flights during January having to be cancelled. Australia's Antarctic airlink was developed at a cost of $46million, an expensive white (ice) elephant.

New Zealand Air Force planes are also having landing difficulties at their ice runnway, servicing the New Zealand Scott base, and have had to rely on ski equipped US air transports to get equipment and people to and from their base.

Greens propose boosting Antarctic, climate and marine research funding

The Federal Labor Government has cut $500,000 from the budget of the Australian Antarctic Division this year and for the next three years. The Greens policy proposal entails restoring this funding and adequately funding Australia's Antarctic and marine research program. Their primary proposals are:

  • Fund an International Antarctic Science research centre/ joint venture - $10 million a year for the next 4 years.
  • Restore funding for the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) - $0.5 million a year. The current Labor Government has cut the budget of the Australian Antarctic Division by 0.5 million for the present financial year and the next three years.
  • Ensure ongoing funding for the Integrated Marine Observing System of $18 million a year. This is very important marine research which gives us better understanding of climate with sea surface temperatures and currents.
  • Provide capacity for the new CSIRO marine research RV Investigator ship to do up to 300 days marine research (instead of 65) - $24.7 million a year. It may sound silly to have an ocean research vessel sitting idle for most of the year, but that is exactly what the Labor Government has budgeted for. The Parliamentary Budget Office told the Greens that there is only sufficient funding to fund about 65 days of research in 2013-14 and only 15 days in the forward estimates. The Greens funding model would maximise use of this vessel for it's intended purpose: on location marine research.

The policy initiative has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office at $205million over the forward estimates.

In January The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced a tender for a new icebreaker to replace the Aurora Australis that has been undertaking expeditions for the last 23 years. The Greens stated that in addition to the above funding proposals, they would support the additional capital cost of a replacement for the Aurora Australis. In addition Senator Milne pointed out the new research centre could be a joint venture, and an important base for the expeditions of other countries - like China or France - to explore and conduct scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The launch of the Greens proposal in Hobart was conducted by the Leader of the Greens, Senator Christine Milne and Greens candidate for the seat of Denison, Anna Reynolds, who has long been aware of the importance of proper funding of Antarctic research for the Tasmanian economy and our global scientific reputation.

Senator Milne said in the media release today:

"Additional funding to Antarctic science and marine research will help promote Hobart as a science hub and reinforce the branding of Tasmania as clean, green and clever. We have already attracted four of the lead authors of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change to Hobart. This gives us an incredible reputation globally."

"A globally renowned science research centre will attract other countries to make Hobart a base for collaborative research and re-supply. I met the leader of the Chinese Antarctic expedition recently and he was quite enthusiastic about that idea. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could attract the Chinese to make Hobart their Antarctic base?"

"We are in a privileged position in Tasmania to be the global gateway to Antarctic exploration, marine and climate research. The Greens package is the investment needed to secure Hobart into the future as a globally recognised hub for Antarctic science and marine research."

"The federal government has taken its eye off the ball with this important sector - with funding cuts and uncertainty risking Hobart's reputation as the global hub for Antarctic science."

Tasmanian Premier urges Commonwealth funding for new research centre

The Tasmanian Government under Labor Premier Lara Giddings also wants the Federal Government to fund a new Antarctic and climate change research Centre. Currently funding for the existing Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) expires next year. State Science Minister has asked Commonweath assistance of $6.5million per year to fund the new Research Centre proposed as a joint venture by the existing Australian Antarctic Centre, CSIRO and the University of Tasmania.

"I think it's really important for the staff, but also it's really important for Australia that this research continues," said Tony Press, CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC. "I mean, we are a very key part of understanding how the global climate system works." according to ABC News.

Antarctic Treaty and minerals exploitation

Antarctica is administered under the terms of the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, which nearly 50 nations have signed. The agreement dedicated the entire continent to peaceful scientific investigation. In addition, in 1991 24 nations approved a protocol to the treaty banning oil and other mineral exploration for at least 50 years. This protocol is up for re-negotiation in 2041.

Seven nations have territorial claims in Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway. These claims are currently suspended with the operation of the Antarctic Treaty.

If the oil companies are able to establish exploitation regimes in the Arctic where about 90 million barrels may be available; the prize of a potential 200 million barrels of oil under the Ross and Weddell seas may be too lucrative to ignore. Let us hope we have moved well beyond the oil and fossil fuel economy by that time.