Australian Navy conduct Antarctic bathymetric survey

  • Australian Navy surveyors have used sonar to create a highly detailed 3D map of the seafloor along parts of the Antarctic coastline, including areas that have not been charted before.

    While Australia claims just under half the land area of the southern continent, only 1 per cent of the continental shelf of the region has been extensively mapped.

    A team of five naval hydrographers spent five days this summer using a multi-beam echo sounder to survey the seafloor around Casey station, one of Australia’s three permanent research bases on the continent. Lieutenant Peter Warning of the Royal Australian Navy’s Deployable Geospatial Support Team on the ASV Wyatt Earp hydrographic survey boat in Antarctica.

    ”The multi-beam survey data is a total game changer for scientific research in the coastal marine environment,” said Martin Riddle, a leading scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division.

    ”Doing any research on sea-bed ecosystems without this type of information would be like trying to work on land without access to good maps, aerial photographs and satellite imagery – if you had the choice, you just wouldn’t attempt it,” said Dr Riddle, who leads Australia’s Antarctica Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems program.

    The survey data, and the improved hydrographic charts that will result, will also ensure the safe navigation of ships, assisting with science or, increasingly, for tourism, in the area. ”The consequences of a nautical accident, such as running aground on an uncharted reef, are far more dramatic in Antarctica,” said Lieutenant Peter Waring, who travelled on the Aurora Australis icebreaker with his team and the Navy’s survey boat, the Wyatt Earp.

    While the coastline around Casey station had previously been surveyed using a single-beam echo sounder, the most recent survey, using a 512-beam echo-sounder, had found errors in the original data, he said. While the survey had to be put on hold for two weeks when the Aurora Australis was sent to assist the Russian-flagged Akademik Shokalskiy when it became trapped in sea ice on Christmas Eve, the team managed to survey the area around Casey station and the nearby O’Brien Bay, which had never been mapped before.

    ”Hopefully we can extend the project beyond areas the AAD are based to other regions where the tourist ships go,” Lieutenant Waring said.