SYDNEY, 4 June 2010: Qantas today announced that it would back an important climate change research project in the Great Southern Ocean as part of its strong commitment to environmental sustainability.
The project, to be undertaken by the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, will enable the Foundation to better understand and respond to the impacts of a changing ocean on the Great Barrier Reef.
Using special sensors mounted on the heads of elephant seals in the Southern Ocean, the project team - comprising researchers from CSIRO and the University of Tasmania - will collect data about the seals’ behaviour and ocean conditions, such as temperature and salinity. The results will reinforce the value of the Southern Ocean as an early warning system for the corals and others species on the Great Barrier Reef, which are particularly sensitive to even small changes in water temperature and pH.
Qantas Chief Risk Officer, Mr Rob Kella, said Qantas considered it an imperative to pursue sustainable operations in all areas of the business and to support environmental research in the scientific community. ""Qantas has a comprehensive, strategic approach to emissions reduction and energy efficiency. This includes fleet renewal to introduce more fuel-efficient aircraft, a commitment to influence the commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel in Australia, more efficient flying techniques, emissions reduction initiatives on the ground and a highly successful carbon offset scheme for customers and staff.
"We also believe that we have a responsibility to assist organisations such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation as they work to protect Australia’s great natural landscapes. On the eve of World Environment Day, Qantas is delighted to be extending its relationship with the Foundation into this crucial researcharea."
Judy Stewart, Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, said the project was closely tied to this year’s World Environment Day theme, biodiversity. "The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most valuable storehouses of biodiversity, and understanding how it will respond to changes brought about by climate change is vital to protecting that diversity.
"With Qantas’ support, this project will add considerably to our knowledge about how heat and carbon dioxide absorption affect corals. This will be important as we develop interventions to address climate impacts. The earlier we know what changes are occurring, the more effectively we can respond."
University of Tasmania marine biologist Professor Mark Hindell said the sensors allow researchers to investigate how elephant seals respond to changes in ocean conditions. "By tracking the seals, we’re also gaining critical information about these changing conditions in the Southern Ocean, which is a driver of the world climate."
CSIRO oceanographer Dr Steve Rintoul said the use of seals gives researchers unique access to parts of the ocean that have traditionally been scientific ’blind spots’, such as under Antarctic sea ice in winter. "Southern elephant seals can dive to depths of up to two kilometres, providing invaluable data about oceanographic changes. Changes in the Southern Ocean are a precursor to change in tropical and subtropical regions like those surrounding the Great Barrier Reef."
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The project will run for 12 months and will be followed by deeper analysis of data to generate additional scientific results and inform research publications.