The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) have signed a Statement of Commitment to advance scientific research on and around the icy continent.

The Commitment will enable and promote greater cooperation on a broad range of high altitude and extreme environments research, including Antarctic ecology, climate science, global sea level change, and ice core science.

Australia and Switzerland have a long history of Antarctic scientific collaboration dating back to Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914.

The Embassy of Switzerland in Australia laid the ground for the new Commitment and facilitated negotiations between AAD and SPI.

The Commitment was signed overnight in a virtual ceremony connecting opposite sides of the world.

AAD Director, Kim Ellis, said strengthening international relationships was an important aspect of Antarctic engagement, highlighted through the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan.

“It has been a pleasure to negotiate the Commitment with our Swiss partners and it will start to deliver results almost immediately,” said Mr Ellis.

“A panel of scientists from both sides has already convened to discuss current projects and future collaborations.”

Executive Director of SPI, Danièle Rod, agreed on its potential and underlined that “the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition organised by SPI in 2017 demonstrated the interest of both sides in closer cooperation”.

Swiss Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen said the signing “will promote the cooperation in Antarctic research between the polar and high altitude science communities of Switzerland and Australia.”

“Most importantly, Swiss and Australian scientists leveraging the AAD’s unique infrastructure in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean will advance our understanding of the engine of the earth’s climate,” he said.

Both countries are strong supporters of the Antarctic Treaty system, which establishes Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

Under the Commitment, AAD and SPI scientists will confer once a year to identify new research opportunities and evaluate existing joint projects.

Current and ongoing work includes:

  • Cryosphere research such as AAD-Swiss cooperation through the international Space Science Institute;
  • Climate studies including the study of global sea level variations research on precipitation at Davis station and collaborative studies of radar observations;
  • Ice sheet research collaboration between WSL (Davos), the University of Berne and University of Tasmania;
  • Expansion of collaboration on Ice Core Science, including age dating of ice and common interests in mutual deep ice drilling projects such as Europe’s Beyond EPICA and Australia’s search for the Million Year Ice Core;
  • Continued analysis and use of Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) data.

The new Australian icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, is also expected to feature prominently in joint projects, when it commences Antarctic service in 2021.

RSV Nuyina has unparalleled scientific, cargo and icebreaking capability to explore one of the last frontiers on earth,” said Mr Ellis.

“Its modular capabilities mean it will be a hub for supporting international scientific collaboration with Switzerland and other Antarctic Treaty nations.”