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Antarctic Scientists Make New Plans After Season Scuttled

NIWA Antarctic researchers are putting contingency plans in place after it was announced the continent would be closed to scientists for the upcoming research season.

Antarctica New Zealand has today announced it has decided to support only long-term science monitoring, essential operational activity and planned maintenance this season in Antarctica to keep it free of COVID-19.

The decision has affected several NIWA researchers including marine physicist Dr Natalie Robinson who is working on a long-term programme aimed at better understanding how ice shelves will melt as the ocean warms.
Dr Robinson says she is hopeful she can move her programme back a year assuming researchers will be allowed back in 12 months.

“’My work is part of a seven-year programme so because it’s such a long one we have the ability to absorb a delay and still deliver within the timeframe.

“It’s a huge call but it’s also in line with what other international programmes have decided. You can’t do anything other than support the international efforts to keep the continent Covid-free.”

Dr Robinson said the team will bring work forward scheduled for later in the programme including deeper analysis of data gathered during previous field seasons.

Fellow marine physicist Dr Craig Stewart is also postponing his Antarctic field work which included installing up to 12 radars on the Ross and McMurdo Ice Shelves to make continuous measurements of the ice thickness.

“It’s a bit disappointing but completely understandable. We rely a lot on the US services and understand there would be limited search and rescue available this summer. We would be camped on the ice hundreds of kilometres from Scott Base and would need to have good support in case it was needed.”

NIWA also carries out annual maintenance in Antarctica at its atmospheric monitoring station Arrival Heights, and on its climate station at Scott base.

Plans to install a new climate station have been given approval to go ahead.
Meanwhile, plans for a NIWA voyage to the Antarctic region aboard flagship research vessel Tangaroa are progressing.

Due to begin in early January, the multi-disciplinary research voyage aims to increase knowledge about key environmental and biological processes in the Ross Sea and Southern Ocean and improve understanding of likely responses to future change.

Voyage leader and NIWA scientist Richard O’Driscoll said they had originally planned to have several international researchers on board but that had now changed and the voyage was likely to be an all-New Zealand trip. However, some equipment would need to come from overseas.

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