40 Australian and int'l scientists to reveal Antarctic secrets

16:42, January 04, 2011      

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Nearly 40 Australian and international scientists set sail to Antarctica on Tuesday to study a 2,500-square-kilometer iceberg.

The team led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's (CSIRO) Steve Rintoul departed Hobart for Antarctica's Mertz Glacier, which was hit by a 97-kilometer-long glacier last year, breaking off a 78-kilometer piece.

Dr Rintoul said the collision, known as a "calving", gave scientists a rare insight to study changes in the Southern Ocean's temperature and salinity.

"The calving of the iceberg has exposed parts of the seabed which haven't been available for study in our lifetimes," he told ABC News.

"It's a biological hotspot supporting everything from microscopic photo plankton, right up to seals and whales.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in there."

Dr Rintoul said the waters surrounding the Mertz Glacier are also one of the key links in the network of ocean currents that influence the world's climate.

Meanwhile, Australian Antarctic Division's Dr Martin Riddle said the voyage could uncover new species of wildlife previously hidden under the ice, as they have been buried under 400 meters of ice for the last 80 years.

The team was equipped with cameras which worked 3,000 meters under the sea, as well as specially designed brackets to protect the equipment in deep sea canyons. They will also take measurements of carbon dioxide stored in the ocean.

The voyage will return to Hobart in February.

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