Heard Island Field Science Projects

Once we land on Heard Island (HI) there’s a play book of field projects to be completed by the expedition team.  The overriding  factor on all of these projects will be the weather.  HI is known for extreme wether conditions, very strong winds rip across the island and there can be long period of rain where it’s bets to just hunker down and wait for it to reduce or maybe even clear away.

But first the rule book.   Australian Antarctic Division (ADD) administers HI and the HI Management Plan places a number of requirements on visitors to the island –

  • Stick to the areas you are authorised to access.
  • No introduced seeds from pre-used clothing and footwear – HI is one of the most pristine islands, there are no introduced species and ADD do everything possible to keep it that way.
  • Our vessel must obtain a de-ratting certificate in Cape Town before our permit to access the HI will be issued.
  • All clothing must be either new or treated with a biocide before landing. There should be no velcro fasteners on clothing because that’s likely to be a means of unwittingly transporting seeds.   Thanks to Kathmandu providing me with new outerwear and gaiters my task is made much easier in this respect.
  • HI is divided into various zones and the use of the zones must be respected by all visitors –
    • Main Use Zone – these are the access points to HI and places for us to locate base camps
    • Visitor access zones provide comparatively safe landing areas for low impact short term visitors.
    • Heritage Zone – there’s only of such zone, it’s located at Atlas Cove and encompasses the former ANARE Station. No entry to this zone is permitted.
    • Restricted Zones are areas that possess natural values that are particularly sensitive to human impact ie. Azorella Peninsula that contains sink holes and lava tubes.
    • Wilderness zone – access is generally restricted to scientific research, environmental monitoring and management activities. A significant number of the Heard Island Expedition activities will require access to Wilderness zones.

And with an understanding of the rules it’s time to get to work.

There’s many projects lined up for the field science team and the list seems to grow by the week.  Here’s some that I’m particularly interested in –

Glacier photo journal.

On behalf of Dr G Budd I will trek the island taking GPS readings and recording the locations of the glaciers by photo and video. Dr Budd was one of the very first ANRE base staffers, he was in the first group to summit Mawson Peak and has been to HI a total of 9 times. Over this period of association with HI he had amassed a vast collection of information and records, including historic photographs of the glacier locations. The photo’s I take will be added to that collection to further expose the impact of global warming and the effect it has had on the retreat of the glacier terminal faces over time.

 

Plastic Debris survey

While on Heard Island I will survey a section of the foreshore, collect and quantify the number and type of plastic debris that is arriving on Heard Island.   There are some very strong ocean currents in the area (http://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level) that may or may not restrict plastic debris from reaching Heard Island. I will complete the survey and then provide the information to the Tangaroa Blue (http://www.tangaroablue.org) organisation for update to their marine debris database.   With an estimated 18,000 (!) items of plastic per square kilometre of ocean the information from Heard Island is critical to assessing the global reach of this human waste that impacts on the food chain.

 

Rock Samples

While on Heard Island we will be “collecting rock samples” for a PhD student at the University of Tasmania. Now my knowledge of rocks is pretty limited so you can image the excitement when the collection criteria was simplified to “anything that looks out of place compared to it’s surroundings”.

But all joking aside this is one of the important projects for the expedition to complete and I’m excited to be involved – even if my role is likely to be reduced to that of the “person required to carry heavy rocks in a back pack”.

 

Classroom on Heard Island

Calling it a classroom is an overstatement but one thing I’m particularly forward to achieving is a real time link satellite between a school classroom and myself outdoors on HI. I’ve contacted two schools already that are keen to integrate the HI expedition into there classroom activities. I visited Wellesley College in Wellington several weeks back and we have several potential teaching points identified that we can work from. I’ll provide more details via the blog as this opportunity develops.

 

So as you’ve read though this list of Projects you might have seen a common theme developing?

I’ll be involved in any project that has me out and providing the opportunity to view as much of the island as possible.  This really is a once in a life time opportunity and I would like to see as much of the island and it’s inhabitants as possible!

 

 

 

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ad-ven-ture (noun): unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity

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