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UNSW organises Antarctic trek to celebrate ce -

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MARK COLVIN: Exactly 100 years ago, Australian cinema-goers were able for the first time to see Home of the Blizzard, the film made by Frank Hurley on Douglas Mawson's famous Antarctic expedition.

To mark the centenary of the expedition's main science program, the University of New South Wales is preparing a six week trip in Mawson's footsteps. They'll repeat century-old measurements to discover and communicate the environmental changes taking place in the south.

One of the expedition leaders is climate change specialist Professor Chris Turney.

CHRIS TURNEY: There's a number of things we're hoping to do, and we're going to start the science program as soon as we head south. This is very much not just for pure science research program: we're taking the public with us, berths are for sale.

MARK COLVIN: It's a privately funded expedition.

CHRIS TURNEY: Privately funded expedition, so we've just secured an ice-strengthened vessel, something called the Shikowski (phonetic), which is up in Vladivostok at the moment heading down towards us very soon.

And we've got a team of scientists from Australia and New Zealand going down with us, capturing all the way from the physical sciences through to the natural sciences of biology.

And as we go south, we're not only going to be taking the people with us, we're going to use the satellite technology to actually broadcast and answer questions and stream live footage as we go.

And as we go down, the people with us are going to be taking part in the science program. We're going to be monitoring the saltiness of the oceans. We're going to be looking at mapping the seabed in places. We're also going to be looking above - we're using drones to map the landscape and measure the temperature as we go.

And then when we actually get to the islands, and hopefully on the edge of Antarctica, we're also going to be looking at the biology: how's the ecosystem on the land and on the seabed and the shallow shelf, how that's changing.

One of the big things at the moment, the big questions is that as the westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere move south, big changes are afoot. About 70 per cent of the energy of the westerlies in the Southern Hemisphere gets soaked up by this enormous current called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current that goes clockwise around the continent, and that's actually pulling in closer to Antarctica.

Now that's having two different effects, one of which is that it's changing the ocean circulation with a possible effect on the world, but it's also bringing warmer water up on the edge of the Antarctic continent.

At the moment, it's not quite clear what effect that's having on the biology of those environments, but as they're doing so, as the winds are going south, it's changing the atmospheric circulation as well, and some of these islands - which are called the sub-Antarctic islands - are actually warming up quite a lot as well.

MARK COLVIN: It's an enormous amount of science you've got to do. How big is your scientific team?

CHRIS TURNEY: Well the team is basically made up of about 13 or so scientists covering a whole range of things on the ship, but we've also got a fantastic team onshore as well. So we're going to be communicating with them and trying to help actually get the public engaged with actually looking at some of the samples we've collected and help us measuring them.

We've actually got a tree ring expert coming down with us to the islands, and there's trees on the Auckland Islands, which are 50 degrees south, and Campbell Island at 52, and no-one's really done much work on these. And these trees look like they're the size of a fist, and they go back two or three hundred years we estimate.

So much like many of the trees we see today, we've got annual rings, and those rings just reflect the pattern of growth: if it's a great growing season - it's nice and warm, plenty of moisture - they'll put on a nice fat juicy ring, and if it's a shocking growing season - miserable, wet, or incredibly dry, which seems unlikely - the rings will be really narrow.

MARK COLVIN: You'll get a really narrow ring.

CHRIS TURNEY: Yeah, really tight, and so you can put this all together like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, and that's a lovely way of nature recording the weather far beyond where our weather stations go.

MARK COLVIN: Alright, well Australia's just elected a government which, I think it's fair to say, is more sceptical about global warming and certainly about what to do about it. Do you think they'll be listening to you when we get back?

CHRIS TURNEY: I think to be perfectly honest, that in the first instance, we're just trying to get people excited by the science, and rather than it being an issue where people have a gut feeling about whether they believe in climate change or not, it's actually getting them to be re-engaged and excited about the science.

And if politicians listen and get excited about what we're doing, that'd be brilliant.

MARK COLVIN: And as you know, the scepticism has extended right into the science. What do you think about that?

CHRIS TURNEY: It has in the public domain somewhat. Certainly in the scientific community, it's remarkably solid. I mean...

MARK COLVIN: But a lot of scientists feel kind of somewhat besieged at the moment because of this public scepticism.

CHRIS TURNEY: Yeah, some do certainly; those who engage a lot with the public and some individuals do struggle with that a little bit. Other people, though, I've met and I've given talks to - when you explain the science - completely understand the basic premise and at the end of the day for us, it's so self-evident, what we see now.

MARK COLVIN: What is that?

CHRIS TURNEY: Well, the fundamental issue is if you didn't have carbon in the atmosphere, the planet would be about minus 50 degrees centigrade, give or take - that's what you'd have. So a little bit of carbon warms the planet, and that's good, it's where we're at today - an average planet temperature of about 14, 15, degrees.

If you put more carbon in the atmosphere, you'd expect the planet to warm, and basically that's what you see.

Now there's all sorts of research questions about where the details are, the rate of change, and the like, but that's a fundamental premise. So if you go with that, you've got to come up with a very good reason - of which no-one's actually done so yet - to explain why putting 200 billion tonnes of extra carbon in the atmosphere won't warm the planet... and to be honest, if you did, you'd probably get the Nobel Prize. Good luck to you!

I'd love to find it, but unfortunately I haven't done so yet.

MARK COLVIN: And even if you put the atmosphere aside, what about the ocean, because you'll be looking at...

CHRIS TURNEY: Well, that's right. Regardless of whether you believe in warming or not - and I always take stock, really, a little bit in saying "you believe" - I mean, the data points to this particular conclusion - carbon dioxide just by its very nature is acidic, and so by putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it turns to carbonic acid, you're going to get... the ocean will become more acidic.

MARK COLVIN: There's no question in your mind the ocean is getting more acidic?

CHRIS TURNEY: Oh yes, and that's measurable. And also, the oceans are absorbing some 90 per cent of the heat from the atmosphere, and when you look at the last 30, 40 years or so, you see this inexorable rise in temperatures in the ocean, or how much heat the ocean's are soaking up.

So there's all sorts of information out there. If people are interested, there are some great sites out there to find it and learn and understand more.

MARK COLVIN: Chirs Turney, professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales and the leader of the 2013-2014 Australian Antarctica Expedition.