New underwater footage from Lord Howe Island Marine Park

Yesterday we were able to bring you news of Professor Colin Woodroffe’s research voyage to Ball’s Pyramid, onboard Australia’s Marine National Facility Research Vessel, Southern Surveyor.

The team, led by Professor Woodroffe from the University of Wollongong, which included researchers from Geoscience Australia, has been filming the ancient relics of coral reefs formed around 8000 years ago, around a remnant volcano in the Lord Howe Island Marine Park that sits within the new Lord Howe Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

Today we can show you some of the video footage from 30 metres below the ocean’s surface, near Ball’s Pyramid, which is part of the marine park.

[An underwater camera is towed by Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor. The camera captures images of sea whips and the seafloor]

[An underwater camera is towed by Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor. The camera captures images of the seafloor which is made up of ancient corals and an angel fish swims past]

[An underwater camera is towed by Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor. The camera captures images of the seafloor which drops away from the camera and small fish swim past]

Research allows scientists to time travel 8000 years

The bow of Southern Surveyor heading to Ball's Pyramid (image Michelle Linklater)


New underwater footage allows researchers to time travel 8000 years

Researchers from the University of Wollongong and Geoscience Australia have been filming the ancient relics of coral reefs formed around 8000 years ago, around a remnant volcano in the Lord Howe Island Marine Park, which sits within the new Lord Howe Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

Onboard Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor, the team led by Marine Geologist, Professor Colin Woodroffe, has been mapping and taking samples in shallow waters around Ball’s Pyramid, 600 kilometres east of Australia’s mainland.

“We have been able to map large sections of the seafloor in the shallower areas around the pyramid,” Professor Colin Woodroffe said, “and discovered that coral flourished there in the past.”

This research is a further collaboration between the University of Wollongong, Geoscience Australia, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the managers of the Lord Howe Island Marine Park. The researchers are working closely with the park managers to ensure that the results of the study can be incorporated into future management and monitoring plans.

Geoscience Australia Geologist, Dr Brendan Brooke said the ancient coral system indicates that around 8000 years ago the sea level was about 30 metres lower than it is today.

“The seafloor samples collected here will help us understand how coral reefs responded to changes in ocean temperature thousands of years ago, and can provide an insight into how today’s reefs may respond to current and future environmental changes” Dr Brooke said.

The underwater video of the fossilised reef provides further information about the seabed habitats of the Lord Howe Island Marine Park. Interpreting the habitats is a part of a doctoral thesis that will be undertaken by Michelle Linklater, from the University of Wollongong, in collaboration with the Marine Park Authority.

Here are some photos from the research voyage.

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Calling for applications for Next Wave and the Transit Voyage Science Program

Southern Surveyor

Each year Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel Southern Surveyor undertakes a number of transit voyages between the ports where one research voyage finishes and the next commences.

Between June and September 2013, Southern Surveyor will undertake three transit voyages.

These transit voyages have come about due to the extension of Southern Surveyor’s research schedule from March to September 2013 to meet requirements of Australia’s Marine National Facility (AMNF) program until the new research vessel RV Investigator arrives.

Southern Surveyor’s extended 2013 schedule is on the MNF web site at and shows the newly scheduled transit voyages between June and September 2013.

The transit voyages provide an opportunity for researchers, early career researchers and students to carry out underway or opportunistic science.

There are two Programs available:  Next Wave (for early career researchers and students) and the Transit Voyage Science Program (for researchers).

Any transit voyage may accommodate both Next Wave and the Transit Voyage Science Program.

Australia’s Marine National Facility is now calling for Applications for Next Wave and the Transit Voyage Science Program  between June and September 2013.

The Call for Applications will open on Friday, 8 February 2013 and close at 17:00 on Monday, 11 March 2013.  For more information and to download an Application Pack please go to

Southern Surveyor locates resting place of WW2 shipwreck


MV Limerick off Ballina

MV Limerick off Ballina


Wreck of the Limerick sunk by the Japanese in 1943 found off Ballina  

One of NSW’s wartime mysteries has at last been solved with the discovery of the wreckage of the MV Limerick off Ballina on the NSW far north coast, Heritage Minister Robyn Parker announced today.

 Ms Parker said that while a lot is known about the sinking of the MV Limerick in 1943, it has taken almost 70 years and the opportunistic use of Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor, to identify the ship’s final location.

 “Limerick was one of the largest vessels sunk by Japanese submarines off Australia’s east coast during their offensive submarine patrols through 1942 and 1943,” Ms Parker said.

 “Local fishermen using modern depth sonars identified a large shipwreck in about 100 metres of water some 18 kilometres off the coast late last year.

 “Following their discovery, NSW Water Police assisted the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in an initial survey of the deep site with a side scan sonar but due to bad weather they were unable to conclusively identify the shipwreck as being Limerick.”

 OEH then approached Australia’s Marine National Facility (AMNF), which operates Australia’s ocean-going research vessel, the 66-metre Southern Surveyor.

 Owned and operated by the CSIRO and funded by the Commonwealth, AMNF is a research facility which is available to all Australian scientists and their international collaborators.

 “The team at AMNF were contacted by OEH and coincidentally a research voyage was already scheduled to operate in the suspected wreck area. OEH approached the lead scientist on board to see if they could assist in locating the wreck,” Ms Parker said.

 The research voyage, led by University of Sydney geologist, Associate Professor Tom Hubble, left Brisbane on 18 January to conduct geological research along the continental slope and shelf between Yamba and Fraser Island.

 In the lead up to identifying the Limerick, the Southern Surveyor’s research team found evidence of large submarine landslides that had the potential to generate a tsunami.

 A landslide can be triggered by a moderately large and shallow earthquake measuring more than 6.5 or 7 on the Richter Magnitude Scale, an event which might happen once every 5,000-10,000 years.

  “When the team at AMNF contacted me to see if we could locate the wreck from on board Southern Surveyor we were pleased to assist,” Dr Hubble said.

 “Confirming the wreck as MV Limerick is in the national interest. We were already in the area, we had the necessary technology and technical expertise and in the end it didn’t take long to create a 3-D image of the wreck.

 “It was amazing to see the seafloor images come to life through Southern Surveyor’s sea floor mapping technology which transformed the data into a 3-D graphic of the ship wreck”.

 The Minister for the North Coast, Mr Don Page, said the New Zealand-owned Limerick was part of a coastal wartime convoy from Sydney to Brisbane when struck by a torpedo at night on ANZAC Day, sinking the next morning on 26 April 1943.

 “Four other vessels in the convoy survived, including the two naval minesweeper escorts, HMAS Colac and Ballarat. Seventy survivors were pulled from the water over many hours,” Mr Page said.

 “Two of Limerick’s crew were killed after jumping into the sea, including NSW resident and the ship’s third officer Mr John Edgar Willmott of Edgeroi and a New Zealand national.

 “This is a reminder of the huge sacrifice paid by merchant seamen during the war on the home front keeping food, materials and supplies going.”

 Ms Parker said OEH was consulting with the NSW Office of Veterans’ Affairs in order to notify next of kin.

 “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local fishermen, Forfar Petrie and Neville Poynting, for reporting this site as soon as they realised it was of possible historic value,” Ms Parker said.

 “We are also grateful to Dr Hubble for offering his valuable research time in order to positively identify the wreck as the MV Limerick.”

What a year it was! December 2012

In December CSIRO Education’s magazine, The Helix, featured a poster all about Australia’s Marine National Facility and Southern Surveyor.

The Helix magazine poster
The ship kept growing skyward, as more work continued on the superstructure, in the shed, the blasting chamber and the Investigator Erection Area.


While RV Investigator was looking ship shape on the wharf, there was still lots of work happening in the Investigator Fabrication Site in the giant shed.

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We were in the final stages of assembling the blocks in the Investigator Erection Area, in the Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore, with the top two blocks, 401 and 402 well underway. You could see how they had that finished look, rather than seeming like there might be another layer to go on top.

RV Investigator's 400 series RV Investigator's 400 series RV Investigator's 400 series

And, we wished you Season’s Greetings…

From Toni Moate, Executive Director and the Future Research Vessel Project Team at CSIRO.

We’re looking forward to launching into 2013 with you!

RV Investigator is being designed, built and commissioned by CSIRO through the Future Research Vessel Project,  an initiative of the Australian Government, under the Super Science Initiative and financed from the Education Investment Fund.

(Make sure you check out the penguins in the Santa hats!)

What year it was! November 2012

In November, after seeing so many keel blocks, it was great to finally have some doors on show! We were up to block 303 on RV Investigator, which is up above the deck.

RV Investigator's block 303 RV Investigator's block 303 RV Investigator's block 303

The ABC kindly gave us permission to post this audio, which was recorded during an interview with Dr Bernadette Sloyan, when we opened up Southern Surveyor, the current Marine National Facility vessel, for free public tours in Darwin. Dr Bernadette Sloyan spoke to Drive Presenter, Vicki Kerrigan, from 105.7 ABC Darwin If you missed the interview you can listen to it here:

More information on the outside broadcast can be found here:

In the shipyard we celebrated 1,000,000 man hours worked without a loss time injury. A lot of effort is being put in to making sure that during the construction of Australia’s new Marine National Facility research vessel, Investigator, the site is a safe place to work. Congratulations to Teekay Australia, Sembawang Shipyard and the CSIRO Site Team in Singapore.

1,000,000 man hours with no loss time injury 1,000,000 man hours with no loss time injury 1,000,000 man hours with no loss time injury

The details from Australia’s Marine National Facility’s 2014-15 application process for sea time on Investigator were released, with 28 applications received for sea time, representing over 836 days of ship time. An excellent result!  The Marine National Facility Steering Committee put out a communiqué to update the scientific community, and the  full text is available at:

Block 204 was blasted, painted, moved to the wharf area and lifted into place, changing the whole look of RV Investigator and the propellers and the retractable bow thruster, which is like a propeller on a stem, arrived at the shipyard.

RV Investigator's block 204 RV Investigator's propeller RV Investigator's retractable bow thruster

Three years ago 10-year-old Clare Cameron won a national competition to name Australia’s new Marine National Facility (MNF) research vessel. Clare’s entry, The Flinders Investigator, was the joint winner – the new ship has been named Investigator. Clare Cameron and her family toured the current MNF vessel, Southern Surveyor, met the scientists who’d returned from a research voyage to the Coral Sea and was presented with a LEGO® Investigator.

Clare Cameron onboard Southern Surveyor Clare Cameron onboard Southern Surveyor Clare Cameron onboard Southern Surveyor

And, the research team onboard Southern Surveyor, ‘un-discovered’ Sandy Island. Dr Maria Seton from the School of Geosciences at The University of and her team were in the under-explored region between the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, taking rock samples from the ridges and plateaus at depths of up to 3.5 km. They were also endeavouring to map about 8000 km of seafloor and they took gravity and magnetic data, to help to better understand the type of crust that underlies the region and the age of these basins, to give a more complete geologic and tectonic history of the area, during the last one hundred million years.

At the outer limits of the Coral Sea, some of the maps the scientists were using showed a 26 kilometre long island, which was identified on the maps as Sandy Island. However, when Southern Surveyor arrived at the location, there was no island to be found. You can read more about the discovery in the media release below.

Here’s some of the global coverage of the ‘un-discovery’:


When is an island not an island?

In a reversal of the centuries-old tradition of explorers undertaking ocean voyages of discovery with the hope of finding new land, a scientific party has done the complete opposite.

A team of Australian and international scientists led by the University of Sydney has solved a mystery regarding the existence of a supposed island in the Southwest Pacific.

The detective work took place on the RV Southern Surveyor, Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel during a research voyage aimed at understanding the tectonic evolution of the eastern Coral Sea.

“We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of 1400 metres in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island,” said chief scientist Dr Maria Seton from the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney.

The maps that the scientists were using are based on a combination of the CIA World Data Bank and the World Vector Shoreline Database. Even Google Earth shows a black blob in the area of the mythical island.

The rogue island has regularly appeared in scientific publications since at least the year 2000.

“So we decided to solve this modern day mythical island mystery. We found the navigational charts were accurate and there was no island in the area, so global maps including Google Earth need to be corrected.”

Dr Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia said, “We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island, then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map.”

As well as mythbusting the existence of islands, the team have been collecting submarine data and rock samples from a little-explored part of the eastern Coral Sea. After 25 days at sea, they have collected 197 different rock samples, collected over 6800 kilometres of marine geophysical data and mapped over 14,000 square kilometres of the ocean floor.

Not only did they uncover rocks formed around 100 million years ago as Australia, Antarctica and New Zealand broke apart, but they also found extensive limestone samples at 3000 metres below the waves, revealing a massive drowning of the region over time.

The original copy can be found on the University of Sydney’s website:

What a year it was! October 2012

In October, RV Southern Surveyor was working to the north of Australia, in East Timorese waters recovering and replacing three Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) moorings, which had been monitoring the Indonesian Throughflow since June 2010.

Research voyage onboard Southern Surveyor to the Ombai Strait (image Alicia Navidad) Research voyage onboard Southern Surveyor to the Ombai Strait (image Alicia Navidad)  Research voyage onboard Southern Surveyor to the Ombai Strait (image Alicia Navidad)

We created a graphic designed to help keep you up to date with where the construction project was up to. This is what it looked like in October.

Investigator graphic

We got hold of some fabulous photos showing how bright blue Investigator will be when finished.

RV Investigator's blue hue RV Investigator's blue hue RV Investigator's blue hue

At the shipyard the mystery box was revealed – and it turned out it was a pair of beautiful, big, bright blue propulsion motors.  RV Investigator has two huge electric propulsion motors that drive two propellers, which can propel the ship to a top speed of 15 knots.

RV Investigator's propulsion motor RV Investigator's propulsion motor RV Investigator's propulsion motor

Southern Surveyor returned to Darwin where we open the ship up for free public tours, from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 October at Stokes Hill Wharf. We had some great media coverage on the Drive program from 105.7 ABC Darwin with Vicki Kerrigan on board on Friday doing an outside broadcast, ABC TV News came and filmed a story, and NT News printed a story about the ship tours [All on board for science – NT News 14 October 2012]. Check out this ABC Online story with some great photos of the outside broadcast.

IMG-20121013-01055 NT News 141012Don cropped

The block we’d been waiting for with bated breath, block 101, or the bow section of the keel, to be finished and was getting very close to being finished! Off to the paint shed…

RV Investigator's block 101 RV Investigator's block 101

And, ABC 7.30 Tas reporter, Felicity Ogilvie, turned up with her crew to film a great story on RV Investigator. Here it is again in case you missed it!

Permission was granted by the ABC to post this story. It can be found on the 7.30 Tas website:


ABC 7.30 TAS PRESENTER, AIRLIE WARD: The CSIRO’s new research ship will be Australia’s largest research vessel and a game changer for the way ocean science is done. The Investigator, as it is to be called, will eventually be berthed in Hobart, but as Felicity Ogilvie reports, the ship is being built in Singapore.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: In a shed the size of two football fields, Australia’s new research ship is taking shape. A traditional Singaporean welcome has been organised for the woman at the helm of the project, Toni Moate from the CSIRO in Hobart.

TONI MOATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT: The steel cutting ceremony started in January and that was amazing because we had been designing the vessel for so long, so to actually get the steel, to cut the steel, see construction commence was exciting for the team, and since then it really has been quite a rapid progression.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: The ship will be called the Investigator and it’s the stuff of scientists’ dreams.

DR BRIAN GRIFFITHS, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT TEAM: the development of a state of the art, first class research ship which will be able to do all sorts of things that I never dreamed I would ever be able to do.

TIM MOLTMANN, INTEGRATED MARINE OBSERVING SYSTEM (IMOS) DIRECTOR: It’s just tremendously exciting, and the day when it comes down the Derwent will be a fantastic day for Australian marine climate science. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s just great to see it being put together.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: The boat is being built in pieces, and they’re big. Some sections of the hull weigh more than 140 tonnes. It will be another year before the ship is completed.

TONI MOATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT: It’s a massive scale operation. The logistics are incredible, ah, so the vessel will have over 1100 sheets of steel , weigh over 3800 tonne, when the vessel’s finished, ah and so it’s, you know, there’s thousands of people working on the vessel itself, thousands of drawings that we have had to review here in Hobart.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: The one off design has had to be tweaked as the ship takes shape. As the project leader, Ms Moate has been visiting Singapore every month to oversee the $120 million project that’s been funded by the Commonwealth. The ship will replace the CSIRO’s current research vessel, the Southern Surveyor. The Surveyor has been the nation’s only blue water research vessel for the past two decades.

TONI MOATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT: We will keep the Southern Surveyor for a transition period with the Investigator, and we’ll be using her up into 2013, and then we’ll look to sell. We’ve kept her in good nick.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: the 66 metre-long Southern Surveyor used to be a fishing trawler until it was modified by the CSIRO. The Investigator will be almost 94 metres long, and it’s set to be a game changer for marine science. That’s because the ship has been designed just for research.

TONI MOATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT: the current vessel can go for 6000 nautical miles, and this one goes for 10,000 nautical miles, so that means that people like oceanographers can go way out into the ocean and sample parts of the ocean that they’ve never been able to get to before.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: the Investigator is luring Oceanographer, Brian Griffiths out of retirement. He spent more than 40 years working for the CSIRO, but never on a ship like the Investigator.

DR BRIAN GRIFFITHS, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT TEAM: In the early days, there were two of us on the vessel, now there will be 40 scientists and we’ll be able to do such good, multi-disciplinary work. Can take a look at a problem, tackle it from the point of view of the chemistry, the physics, the biology, the biogeochemistry, the geology, the ocean atmosphere interactions. It’s just such a step, huge step forward in the ability to do marine science in this country.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: The Investigator will be fitted with specialised equipment such as eco-sounders. That will enable scientists to explore up to 6 kilometres below the surface. While biologists are interested in what lives down in the dark, geologists plan to take samples of the mud from the ocean floor.

DR BRIAN GRIFFITHS, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT TEAM: It allows us to get down into the deep ocean. It’s a bizarre place. It’s the world’s largest habitat, the abyssal ocean, and you get really, really strange creatures. You get fish that are all teeth and mouth, and virtually nothing else. We can now be able to bench mark the deep ocean and look for potential changes should the climate change. We’ve never had that capability before and now we’ve got it and it’s just amazing.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: Scientists from the Integrated Marine Observing System are also looking forward to getting on board. They’re using ocean gliders to measure surface currents and collect data to measure the water temperature, salinity and tepidity.

TIM MOLTMANN, INTEGRATED MARINE OBSERVING SYSTEM (IMOS) DIRECTOR: Well it’s going to help us put those gliders into parts of the ocean we couldn’t get into otherwise. Probably the main ways, the main things it does for us, it enables us to work much more effectively in the Southern Ocean, so the vessel that is operating now, the Southern Surveyor, it can only go to about 50 degrees south safely, so this new vessel will go all the way to the ice edge.

ABC REPORTER, FELICITY OGILVIE: scientists from around the country are already queuing up to join in the maiden research voyage.

TONI MOATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FUTURE RESEARCH VESSEL PROJECT: We’ve just gone out for the call for applications in 2014-15. We’ve got about 300 days available and we’ve got requests for 850 days, and so it’s a huge step forward, but if someone would like to give us another vessel, we’d be happy to have it.


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