AMC help to uncover Antarctic secrets

November 20, 2014 - via Australian Maritime College

WORLD-LEADING Antarctic research will be conducted at Launceston's Australian Maritime College over the next two years, with the results expected to unearth never-before-seen findings about the frozen continent. Earlier this month, the federal government poured $24 million into a three-year Antarctic Gateway Partnership with Tasmania. The partnership will focus on technology development, charting services and employment, culminating with a series of new research expeditions to Antarctica.

The AMC has received about $7.5 million of the $24 million grant and will focus on marine technology development. The plan: to create a world-first underwater robot that can document unexplored Antarctic ocean terrain.

In the long-term the robot's findings could be used to better understand the impact of climate change in Antarctic ecosystems.

AMC autonomous underwater vehicle expert Dr Alex Forrest says the three-year program will turn Launceston into a centre of excellence for Antarctic research. "It's certainly world-leading, no questions asked," he said yesterday.

"There are four themes of the gateway: ice shelve cavities, marine biology, solid earth [glaciers], marine technologies. "Basically, AMC is leading the fourth theme. We're developing a new AUV that can go underneath ice shelve cavities and look at biology and provide feedback for all of the other research themes."

Dr Forrest said he was envisioning challenges, however. "We need to build a vehicle and we need to build it quickly. "In that grant we have four positions funded as well. So we not only have to get the critical mass in terms of people, we have to get the people on board very quickly, track them coming to Launceston and then build a vehicle that can be ready to deploy in Antarctica, explore ice and then relay the findings to the other themes within two years."

Exploring "the interesting science questions" will drive the local research team, with Dr Forrest confident the findings will open the door to greater Antarctic knowledge for future generations. "If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail," he said.

"We don't want to have this one vehicle and use it everywhere. We want multiple different vehicles and the support system necessary to tackle a series of different projects. "In essence, these robots are relatively simple. We're basically taking a cylinder, sticking a propeller on the end and driving it around. "But it's the range, the capabilities, the instruments it's measuring and the data it's receiving. I'd like to think we're creating the next generation."

The AMC research team will hold an Antarctic Gateway workshop in the coming month to brainstorm ideas.

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Author:Chris Clarke

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