Sensors developed by SMART researchers will collect data from the harsh climate of Antarctica to measure the impact of climate change and bio-diversity.

The University of Wollongong has secured a slice of $36 million in Federal Government funding to take part in a program called Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF).

The program will deliver world-leading research that will forecast environmental change across the Antarctic, deploy effective environmental stewardship strategies, and secure Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

Dr Johan Barthelemy said he was thrilled to be a part of the project that will offer significant technical challenges.

He said his team would develop multiple embedded sensors capable of transmitting data using long-range technologies.

They would also develop a new terrestrial smart remote sensing platform, able to run for an extended period of time.

“Our sensors and sensing platform will have to work in the Antarctic environment,” he said.

“We will have to learn about how to make sensor life longer, we need to understand the challenges of power supply and installation.”

He said current data from the ground relied on the presence of researchers, which meant that none had been gathered during the long winter.

“Even at the best of times, the researchers are only there for two or three months a year during the summer,” Dr Barthelemy said.

“The rest of the time there is no-one to deploy, so we don’t know what is going on.”

The limits on research were increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, when no Australian researcher was allowed on the continent.

The project is expected to last more than five years, and will require the development of a laboratory at SMART that can simulate the Antarctic environment to test equipment before deployment.

“The sensors will need to be able to withstand the cold but also last as long as possible – we need it to work for months,” he said.

“So we will be looking at the same type of battery that you would use in space.”

The sensors will measure the effects of climate change, collecting data about temperature and humidity of both soil and air.

But they will also record the growth and health of mosses, because they are a good indicator of climate change.

“When the moss becomes stress because there is not enough water or too much heat it turns red,” Dr Barthelemy said.

SAEF is led by Monash University and brings together researchers from UOW, the Queensland University of Technology, University of New South Wales, James Cook University, University of Adelaide, the Western Australian Museum, and the South Australian Museum.

It will also involve peak industry bodies and Antarctic programs from five nations.

Education Minister Dan Tehan announced the project in April and work is expected to start at SMART towards the end of this year, or start of 2021.