From the outset, the RSV Aurora Australis was designed as a floating scientific platform. Many scientists had input into the design and placement of her working and laboratory spaces, and she has hosted hundreds of scientific research projects over her many years at sea.
Antarctic science is not limited to what happens on the shore, though this is important. Collecting specimens of seawater, sea creatures, temperature and chemical measurements, atmospheric science and mapping the seafloor are all critical parts of Antarctic research. The science programs conducted onboard the Aurora Australis reach from the ocean depths to the upper reaches of our planet’s atmosphere.
The stern (back end) of the ship has large-scale trawling equipment, like a fishing vessel, which is used to collect biological specimens. On her forward (front) starboard side is a special door for the deployment of a large instrument called a conductivity-temperature-depth profiler (CTD). The CTD drops into the ocean and collects seawater at various levels for study of ocean water temperature, salinity, microscopic sea life and other data that measure the health of the ocean water and its inhabitants.
Multiple spaces across the ship allow projects to set up for meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic (physical, chemical and biological) research.
Not limited to collecting samples and data, the AA has facilities for storing and transporting a range of scientific specimens back to Australia for further work, including precious ice cores collected on the Antarctic continent under very difficult (and sometimes dangerous) conditions.
And of course, many zoologists and biologists have travelled to Antarctica and Macquarie Island on board the AA to study fish, seal, penguin and other seabird populations, adding to our knowledge of Antarctic ecosystems.
As the Australian Antarctic Program’s “fifth station”, the Aurora Australis has been a critical part of Australian Antarctic scientific research for over 30 years.