Jan 14 2011 | Posted by wun

Ocean scientists to investigate humpback whales’ Kimberley nursery

Researchers from the Oceans Institute within The University of Western Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) are to embark on a three-week field trip to one of WA’s most remote regions to investigate ocean circulation and its influence on the ecology of Camden Sound in the Kimberley.

Camden Sound is an important whale nursery and the northernmost point in the whales' annual winter migration from Antarctica.  The area is also part of the WA Government’s proposed Camden Sound Marine Park.

The Oceans Institute scientists will visit Camden Sound with researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

The scientists will travel aboard the 35-metre AIMS research vessel RV Solanderwhich will depart from Darwin on Tuesday 18 January 2011.

The Solander will sail around the north of WA to Camden Sound and the little-explored Montgomery Reef, a large submerged reef covering hundreds of square kilometres that dramatically emerges from the sea at low tide.

The Camden Sound area is characterised by extensive island archipelagos, a complex series of coastal headlands, and extremely large tides of 10 metres and more.

“This project will lead to significant advances in our understanding of the circulation of the Camden Sound region of the Kimberley, Western Australia,” said the UWA principal research scientist, Dr Nicole Jones.

“The principal aim of the expedition is to conduct the first detailed hydrodynamic study of the regional circulation and mixing processes along the central Kimberley coastal region.”

The Australian Research Council funded project is employing a combination of field measurements, laboratory observations and numerical modelling to quantify – for the first time – the influence of the complex topography on circulation, ocean mixing and hence the exchange and flushing of material (such as nutrients, contaminants, sediments and larvae) throughout the region.

Other activities to be undertaken during the research cruise will include collecting plankton, sponges, corals and algae to build understanding of the biodiversity of this unique environment.

“Research to underpin management of the area will be especially important as the region is one of the world’s last frontiers for basic scientific research, where our fundamental knowledge is lacking,” said the Acting Director of the Oceans Institute, Winthrop Professor Gary Kendrick.

Work undertaken on the field trip will help clarify the influence of the series of islands, reefs and headlands on the circulation and mixing along this coast.

It’s expected this will ultimately provide insights into other similar systems with complex coastal topography and provide the framework to understand the various physical processes that drive the marine ecology of the region.