The Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica has a profound effect on the climate of the Southern Hemisphere. In order to study the atmosphere above the Southern Ocean CSIRO, the Australian research organization, has commissioned a brand new research vessel, the 94-meter purpose-built Investigator. The vessel which can carry up to 60 scientists and support staff has just returned to Hobart, Australia after successfully completing its first cold water trials, which took the vessel to the Antarctic ice edge at 65 degrees South.

The Investigator is the newest research vessel of the CSIRO and is now on its first voyage South. (Photo: Marine National Facility/ MNF)
The Investigator is the newest research vessel of the CSIRO and is now on its first voyage South. (Photo: Marine National Facility/ MNF)

The ship has been designed to operate in water temperatures of -2°C to +32°C, from the Antarctic ice edge to the tropics. "On this cold water commissioning voyage we tested everything from the winches to the dynamic positioning system, to make sure they were operational in very cold conditions," Ms Moate the executive director of the project said. The Investigator which is capable of travelling 10,000 nautical miles (18,520 km) in a single voyage and has permanent ship-based laboratories on board to study the influence of both natural ocean emissions and human emissions on the composition of air over the Southern Ocean. The Aerosol Laboratory contains specialised equipment to measure even the smallest of particles, less than one nanometre - a billionth of a metre - in diameter, while the Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory contains instruments to analyse the composition of the atmosphere in detail, including trace amounts of gasses from human activities.

The equipment of the vessel meets the latest standards of modern research and offers the possibility of studying air particles on site. (Photo: MNF/ Zoran Ristovski)
The equipment of the vessel meets the latest standards of modern research and offers the possibility of studying air particles on site. (Photo: MNF/ Zoran Ristovski)

Aerosols are tiny particles suspended in the air which cloud and fog droplets cling to - without aerosols, clouds and fog simply cannot form," said Queensland University of Technology researcher Professor Zoran Ristovski, who helped design and test the labs. "Clouds play a big part in climate modelling due to their ability to reflect incoming sunlight back into space." "The Southern Ocean is a key driver for Australia's climate and weather - understanding more about the atmosphere in this part of the world will allow us to create far more accurate climate models for this region.”

The use of weather balloons has a long tradition in meteorology (Photo: MNF/ Stewart Wilde)
The use of weather balloons has a long tradition in meteorology (Photo: MNF/ Stewart Wilde)

Dr Robyn Schofield from the University of Melbourne's School of Earth Sciences led a team that launched 10 meteorological balloons from the ship, in the demanding conditions of the Southern Ocean. "We used this voyage, in part, to plan for future scientific voyages that will be examining storm fronts over the Southern Ocean," Dr Schofield said. "Being so far from populated areas, atmospheric data collection in the Southern Ocean to date has been difficult and these labs will make a real difference to the quality of observations to test our climate models”  ultimately improving the ability to predict future changes to weather and climate.

The Southern Ocean is a rough place to perform research and the ships should be constructed accordingly. (Photo: MNF/ Stewart Wilde)
The Southern Ocean is a rough place to perform research and the ships should be constructed accordingly. (Photo: MNF/ Stewart Wilde)

After all the equipment performed above expectations Investigator’s first research voyage is scheduled to leave Hobart on 22 March to deploy deep sea oceanographic moorings in the Southern Ocean.

Source: Queensland University of Technology