We manage the advanced research vessel Investigator to enable a wide range of research within Australia's vast marine estate, delivering opportunity and capacity to Australian researchers, and benefit to the nation.

The challenge

Limited resources for marine research

Australia has the third-largest marine jurisdiction of any country at 13.6 million km2. However, only 25 per cent of this area has been studied or mapped in any detail, with only a fraction of that being described at the habitat level.

Associate Professor Andrew Bowie and PhD Candidate Morgane Perron with an automated rain water sampler aboard RV Investigator.  ©ABC / Ann Jones

Resources and scientific infrastructure for study of our marine environment are limited, especially given the fact that research often needs to be undertaken across vast areas and in remote and extreme environments, including to ocean depths of 6 km or more in our region.

Scientific understanding of our marine environment is vital for its conservation and successful management, both to meet our obligations under international law and for the future prosperity of the nation.

Our response

Providing capacity

The Marine National Facility manages research vessel Investigator, a dedicated marine research vessel that enables a wide range of capacity and capability for research across our vast marine jurisdiction. Capable of operating from ice edge to equator, Investigator delivers a highly flexible research platform that can accommodate multiple projects for up to 40 scientists on single voyages of up to 10,800NM and 60 days.

The Marine National Facility also makes available to researchers a suite of advanced scientific equipment and the technical expertise to deliver multidisciplinary science operations on each voyage.

Australian researchers and their international collaborators have the opportunity to access sea time on Investigator through a competitive granted voyage program that supports research of national benefit. Unused capacity within the primary voyage schedule can then be accessed by researchers through supplementary and piggyback application processes.

The combination of vessel capability and capacity creates additional opportunity for multi-year and value-add projects to be included within the primary voyage schedule, maximising the science and national benefit from every voyage.

The results

Delivering additional research

Investigator has delivered a wide range of value-add research projects that would not otherwise be undertaken within our marine jurisdiction.

Since 2014, the vessel has collected data on multiple voyages in support of research to examine natural iron fertilisation of our region's oceans under a project led by Assoc Prof Andrew Bowie from the University of Tasmania. Data is collected using the vessel's dedicated aerosol laboratories and specialised monitoring equipment installed on Investigator in order to better understand how trace elements like iron enter the ocean from the atmosphere above, whether it be from volcanic eruption, bushfire smoke, dust storms or rainfall. This research has been conducted in addition to the primary voyage schedule, including on vessel transit voyages (voyages linking research voyages), enabling the collection of data from along the majority of the Australian coastline.

Iron is a key micronutrient for marine phytoplankton, the scarcity of which limits essential biogeochemical processes and ocean fertility. The data collected by Investigator for this research contributes to an integrated oceanographic and atmospheric observational program for trace elements in the oceans around Australia. This research increases our understanding of how iron supplied from atmospheric aerosols affects ocean productivity and marine ecosystem health, providing the science for predicting a key factor in the future impact of the oceans on climate.

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