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Exploring South Australia's ocean depths

Follow our blog as scientists travel 200 nautical miles off the Southern Australian coast in the marine national facility, the CSIRO research vessel Southern Surveyor, and explore our ocean at depths not previously surveyed………

Voyage background

South Australian schools science experiment

Survey discovers deep-sea volcano off South Australia

SARDI scientists have discovered an extinct volcano (800m across and 200m high) 2km below the surface and 100 nautical miles offshore in a protected area of the Great Australian Bight.

Story taken from The Advertiser, Monday November 1, 2010

MISA snapshot, Issue 12 - 2010: Scientists discover deep-sea volcano off South Australia (PDF 96KB)

Dr David Currie (SARDI) - Day 9

CSIRO scientists and surveyor crew preparing to deploy an ARGO floatDavid Currie (chief scientist) prepares Smith McIntyre Grab for sampling in GAB Marine Park08.00 Wednesday 18th August.  Last night CSIRO scientist and Southern Surveyor crew successfully deployed two ARGO floats south of Kangaroo Island. These long, yellow, tubes travel up and down through the oceans surface layers collecting data on water temperature, salinity and conductivity.  This information is uploaded to a satellite when the float returns to the surface, and integrated with other ARGO float data from around the globe to develop real-time climate models.


Dr David Currie (SARDI) - Day 7

11.00 hrs Monday August 16th.  The Southern Surveyor left the Great Australian Bight Marine Park at 05.00hrs this morning, after completing a final beam-trawl tow at a depth of 2 km, and is presently making its way towards Hobart. 

The poor weather conditions experienced during our day in the park, has meant that we've only been able to sample half of the sites on our voyage plan. We have, nonetheless, been extremely successful in obtaining an extraordinary diversity of invertebrates and fish from this little-studied part of Australia. 

We have also been successful in mapping new parts of the seabed, and in collecting several novel oceanographic measurements across this extremely remote marine reserve. 

Solitary corals and anemones from 1000m depth A variety of fish species collected from 1000m depth An army of brittlestars collected from 1000m
South Australian schools science experiment

Jessica with one of the cups lowered to 1000mPupils of the many schools who participated in our deep-water pressure experiment, will also be pleased to know that all of their cups were returned safely to the vessel yesterday, after a one-hour journey on the CTD down to a depth of more than 1 kilometre.





Laura Richardson (SARDI) - Day 7

The weather has been rough over the last few days, at one point we had 10m swells and wind gusts to 60 knots, and we were confined to the insides of the ship. It's definitely exciting to be in a storm, it's great to be on the bridge watching the waves come at us. I have gotten used to the rocking of the boat now, but I'm starting to get a bit tired of it. It doesn't allow for a very good night's sleep.

We have managed to get some science done, despite the weather. I have done three CTD profiles out of the proposed five so far, and I have collected about 40 water samples. I'm very pleased to get them. I am looking forward to analysing them for stable isotopes and adding them to my data set. This is possibly only the second time stable isotope analyses will be done on water from the southern margin of Australia, and I think the data will be very useful in understanding water masses and circulation.

There is lots of time to wait around, and between now and getting into Hobart we only have one more CTD to get, so it'll be fairly uneventful the next few days. We do have data that is continuously being collected as we move, such as mapping the seafloor and measuring current direct and speed, but I am not part of processing it. I tend to spend my time trying to get a bit of work done, watching movies, and eating! There is lots of good food on here but not much opportunity to work it off. Not a good combination!


Saras Kumar (DENR) - Day 4

The voyage got off to a perfect start - the weather was beautiful leaving Freemantle with light winds and a pod of dolphins saw us out of the harbour.  As we made our way down the Western Australian coast the wind picked up and so did the swell.

Despite a comfortable night's sleep in a cosy cabin the ship's rolling got the better of me and I spent most of Day 2 in my cabin trying not be sick!

The sea calmed down again and I was feeling much better by Day 3 when it was time to assist Laura with her water sampling. 

The RV Southern Surveyor has some pretty impressive equipment on board as well as an expert crew.

The second set of water sampling was done at 4am on the morning of Day 4! It was sunrise by the time we finished and we were hoping to see a spectacular one but all we could see was a wall of rain coming our way! Hopefully we'll get to see tomorrow's sunrise after another early morning sampling.


Dr David Currie (SARDI) - Day 4.  South Australian schools science experiment

Laura with Seaton High Cups

10.00 hrs Friday 13th August.  Continuing poor weather conditions off the West Australian coast means that the crew have some free time on their hands to prepare for our school science experiment. 

Conductivity , temperature, depth (CDT) sensor used to lower cups to 1000m

In this experiment, pupils from four schools in Adelaide (Largs Bay Primary, West Lakes Shore Primary, Seaton High, Brighton High) and one in Port Lincoln (St Josephs), will get to see the effects of pressure at depth, when their hand-painted cups are lowered more than one kilometer below the sea surface. 

These cups are destined to piggy-back a ride on our Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) sensor when it's next deployed off Cape Pasley in the early hours of Saturday morning.


Brighton Secondary Cups Largs Bay cups for pressure experiment St Joesphs school (Port Lincoln) cups for pressure experiment West Lakes Shore Primary School cups for pressure experiment


Dr David Currie (SARDI) - Day 3

Oceanography team onboard the Southern Surveyor

08.00 Thursday 12 August.  Poor weather conditions (40knot winds and 3m seas) are continuing to hamper our sampling program.  These conditions have made it unsafe to deploy the large CTD water sampler over the side of the vessel, and we have now passed two of Laura Richardson's sampling stations (off Cape Leeuwin and Albany) without being able to collect any water samples. 

We are now proceeding east along the 1000m depth contour towards Esperance, mapping the seabed topography with the onboard swath. Hopefully the weather will ease soon, and allow the oceanography team to get some sampling done.


Laura Richardson (SARDI) - Day 2

Things have been very exciting so far. I have been on a few ships in the last several years, but it is still something special to get out on the ocean with no view of land, and just take it all in.

This is my first time on the Southern Surveyor, and it seems like a great ship. I was told the current weather was a 9 out of 12 for how bad it can be, and I am surprised that it doesn't feel too rough on this ship. I am prone to seasickness, and I came well prepared. I am wearing wrist bands that put pressure on a pressure point on your wrist, to help with balance, and I am taking tablets. So far this combination is working, and apart from a little queasiness, I am fully functional.

The Southern Ocean along Australia's southern margin is my area of study for my PhD, and while all I can see around me is water, it is still exciting to be out here seeing it, rather than being in an office or lab analysing data.

I am on the ship to take measurements of the water chemistry, and collect water samples that I will take all the way to Canada to be analysed. Unfortunately the first proposed water sampling station was cancelled due to the weather, but we are heading for the second station and hopefully the weather will be better when we reach it. It is disappointing but out of our hands, and if it is too dangerous to sample it is not worth the risk. If we can get a little science done on this trip we'll be happy.

I am looking forward to working with the hydrochemist from CSIRO, who will help me with the sampling and nutrient analyses onboard. This will be my first time analysing samples on board for hydrochemistry, and I feel very lucky to have this hands on experience.

There are less scientists on board this trip compared to normal, as it is a transit, so we each have our own cabins. They are a decent size, and it's good to have our own space. It's also great to have all meals cooked for us! The crew are all very friendly and full of interesting and entertaining stories of past cruises and adventures. I think they like scaring us a little with stories of bad weather and things going wrong! It's great to hear about their lives which are very different from mine.


 Voyage background

Muster drill on the Southern Surveyor

The ten-day expedition aboard the CSIRO research vessel, Southern Surveyor, led by MISA scientist, Dr David Currie, leaves Fremantle for Hobart on Tuesday August 10. It will assess the significance of sea floor biodiversity in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park Benthic Protection Zone. 

Assisting Dr Currie is Saras Kumar from the Department for Environment and Natural Resources. Saras is the manager of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park and has welcomed this opportunity to support this research which will provide important information for the management of the Park.

The $450,000 trip, funded by the Commonwealth, is sampling at depths of up to 4000 metres. This is the first time scientists have sampled at these great depths in this part of Australia.

Saras and Laura on Fremantle wharf

The benthic organisms discovered will significantly improve our understanding of these deep water areas, which are subject to increased interest by oil exploration companies. It is critical that the ecological importance of the area is understood if the need arises to manage oil production or deep-water fishing in these areas.

Dr Currie will be joined by PhD student with ANU, Laura Richardson who is working with SARDI Aquatic Sciences Oceanography group and the Southern Australian Integrated Marine Observing System.

Laura has the unique opportunity of shedding some light on why the region between the Bonney Coast and eastern Great Australian Bight is one of Australia’s most productive marine ecosystems.

For the first time, Laura will be studying the chemical properties of water masses of the westward flowing Flinders Current which are thought to have a profound influence on the region’s rich marine productivity.

Preparing beam trawl on Fremantle wharf

Identifying the chemistry of seasonal cold nutrient rich upwelling water is important for understanding and predicting phytoplankton blooms that result from nutrient increases. Phytoplankton blooms are essential for zooplankton biomass and in turn higher trophic level species such as Southern Bluefin Tuna.

Laura will be sampling temperature, salinity and nutrients to depths of 1000 metres, as well as taking water samples.

Laura’s PhD is on the ocean chemistry and water masses of the Leeuwin Current/Undercurrent system from the North West Shelf to Tasmania, focussing on the upwelling area around Kangaroo Island. This work is important for predicting upwelling events and understanding shelf ecosystems to better manage South Australian fisheries and marine resources.

Voyage details