Celebrating 70 years of the Australian Antarctic Program

20151121raaf8540638_0772.JPG  By Dr Nick Gales, Director, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of Environment and Energy

The 2017-18 Antarctic season will be the 70th anniversary of the Australian Antarctic Program. The international interest in Antarctica has grown significantly since it began and will continue to do so. It is timely that the Department of the Environment and Energy’s Australian Antarctic Division is participating in the development of the Foreign Policy White Paper, which will reflect Australia’s role as a leader in Antarctica.

Antarctica has long been recognised as a unique and awe-inspiring continent and it holds a special place in the hearts of many Australians.

The Australian Antarctic Division leads the Australian Antarctic Program, working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other agencies. Australia has a strong presence in the region. Our permanent research stations, operational activities and world-class science place us at the forefront of international engagement in Antarctica.

Mawson research station (image: Chris Wilson/Australian Antarctic Division)

The Australian Antarctic Program is highly collaborative, with partnerships across government and with more than 150 national and international research institutions. Together, these partnerships contribute to advancing Australia’s national Antarctic interests.

In 2016, the Australian Government committed to further strengthen our engagement and leadership in Antarctica with the release of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan. The Strategy recognises that Antarctic science has never been more important. Understanding Antarctica and the Southern Ocean teaches us about the past and helps us predict our future climate and environment, on both a domestic and global scale.

To bring Antarctic science into the next generation, we are rebuilding our deep field traverse capability to lead major international research projects, such as the search for a million year old ice core. A million year old ice core is a ‘holy grail’ of climate research and can help us to unlock past climate records.

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Measuring ice core (image: Jo Chandler/Australian Antarctic Division)

The Strategy and Action Plan reaffirms the fundamental importance of the international agreements that govern Antarctica – the Antarctic Treaty system. With the 1959 Antarctic Treaty as the centrepiece, this system designates Antarctica as a natural reserve free from mining and political discord. It is devoted to peace, international cooperation on cutting-edge science and protection of Antarctica’s pristine environment. Australia was a key architect of this system and remains a staunch supporter.

Today, 53 countries have acceded to the Treaty. Many of these are increasingly active on the continent. This engagement, occurring within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty system, is welcome, and is a demonstration of the significance of Antarctica and the strength of the international governance arrangements of the Treaty System.

Australia, through its history of involvement, physical presence and scientific research, continues to be a leading and influential player in the cooperative management and governance of Antarctica.

Hagglunds on ice (image: Justin Chambers/Australian Antarctic Division)

Dr Nick Gales is the Director of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy’s Australian Antarctic Division. Dr Gales is a former Chief Scientist of both the Antarctic Division and the Department of the Environment.

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