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SCU students prepare for Antarctic voyage


15 November 2005
Two Southern Cross University students have been selected to join a 10-week voyage to the Antarctic as part of a long-term climate change research project, headed by Associate Professor Graham Jones from the School of Environmental Science and Management.

Darren Fortescue and Stacey King are honours students in the Bachelor of Applied Science degree at the Lismore campus. They will leave Australia on January 2 on board the ice breaker Aurora Australis and will return in March.

The students will be among 60 researchers on the Australian Antarctic Division BROKE West voyage, which will depart from Fremantle bound for the western part of Eastern Antarctica. The researchers on board will be studying krill stocks in this region as well as studying the biological and chemical oceanography of the area.

Mr Fortescue said their part of the project would involve taking water samples at the sea surface and at depths ranging from 10 metres to 200 metres to measure the level of organically produced sulphur compounds from phytoplankton.

He said marine algae were thought to produce a sulphur compound, dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP) to protect itself from extreme changes in temperature and salinity. This then formed dimethylsulphide (DMS) which stimulated cloud formation, and therefore kept temperatures lower.

"This climate regulation acts in the opposite way to the warming of the earth due to greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it a pretty important cycle on a global scale.

"We want to find out how much of this compound is being emitted to the Antarctic atmosphere and what species are producing the compound," Mr Fortescue said.

Associate Professor Jones, who is working with the Australian Antarctic Division in Tasmania for the next month and co-ordinating the research, said satellite observations by Associate Professor Albert Gabric of Griffith University, over the Antarctic sea ice zone indicated there were high concentrations of the sulphur compound being emitted from coastal waters around Antarctica.

"The satellite pictures we are recovering show huge amounts of this sulphur gas is being released when sea ice melts. We need to learn more about this process as it is quite possible that it can affect temperatures there,″ Professor Jones said.

"These sorts of studies will enable us to get some predictive capacity for how rapid the climate change will be."

The Honours students will leave from Fremantle on January 2 and return to Hobart on March 6 next year.

Photo opportunity: Darren Fortescue and Stacey King will be finalising equipment for the trip at the Environmental Analysis Laboratory, SCU Lismore campus, on Wednesday, November 16 at 11.30am.

Media contact: Brigid Veale 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.