Australian scientists will lead an international voyage on board Marine National Facility research vessel Investigator to unlock the history and likely future of East Antarctica.

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Voyage Chief Scientist and Macquarie University Associate Professor, Leanne Armand, said the 51-day mission would bring new understanding to the melting of the Totten Glacier located in the region.

"Understanding how the Totten Glacier (right) behaved in the past could be the key to decoding what its current melting means for the future and whether these changes are a new event or if they have happened in the past," Associate Professor Armand said.

"To answer this question, we will map the Sabrina Coast seafloor, which lies off the Totten Glacier and take samples of undersea sediment left behind over hundreds of thousands of years.

"This will help us understand the significance of recent reports that warm ocean water is melting the bottom of the Totten Glacier, which plugs an ice catchment that could produce six metres of global sea level rise."

The voyage brings together a team of global experts, and includes more than thirty scientists and students from the US, Italy, Spain and Australia.

Associate Professor Armand said that the voyage would also collect some of the first pictures of life on the Sabrina Coast seafloor which would be vital for the future conservation of the area.

"Although the water is close to freezing, we expect to find some unique and never before seen organisms living on the seafloor," she said.

"Knowing what life is down there helps understanding of the greater Antarctic ecosystem which includes whales, penguins and other large marine animals, and will help inform the proposed international Marine Protected Area listing."

Minister for Science, Greg Hunt, said the voyage reaffirmed Australia’s pivotal role in climate change research.

"The world is closely following the changes in Antarctica and the implication of these changes for Australia and the rest of the world," Minister Hunt said.

"The voyage has a representation of scientists from multiple countries and is a great demonstration of the collaboration that Investigator encourages in addressing important global issues”.

CSIRO Facilities Program Director of the Marine National Facility, Mr Ben Rae, said each year scientists from across Australia, and their international collaborators, competed to be selected for research voyages on board Investigator.

"The ship is a purpose-built high-tech floating laboratory, and the scientists and students on board will be studying everything from fossilised phytoplankton to the chemical fingerprint of ancient sediment samples," Mr Rae said.

"At almost two months at sea, it will be one the longest voyages Investigator has undertaken and its first Antarctic specific mission."

The Antarctic research voyage will depart from Hobart on Saturday, 14 January and is scheduled to return Sunday, 5 March.

The Marine National Facility, which manages the research vessel Investigator, is owned and operated by CSIRO for the benefit of the nation.

Media are invited to a photo and interview opportunity at 9:00am on Saturday, 14 January at the CSIRO Marine Laboratories at Battery Point (on rotunda in front of Investigator).

Chief Scientist on the voyage, Associate Professor Leanne Armand (Macquarie University) and Dr Tara Martin, Group Leader with Oceans and Atmosphere (CSIRO), will speak about the upcoming voyage and a photo opportunity will be provided with voyage participants ahead of ship departure at 10:00am.

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Images

  • Scientists working on Investigator.

    Assoc Prof Leanne Armand (left) from Macquarie University on Investigator in 2015.

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  • Research vessel Investigator at sea.

    Investigator departs from Hobart on another voyage.

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  • Totten Glacier, Antartica.

    Totten Glacier, Antartica.  ©Australian Antarctic Division

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  • Investigator approaching ice edge during cold water trials in 2015.

    Investigator first reached the ice edge during cold water trials in 2015.  ©Stewart Wilde, MNF

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