When the French ship L’Astrolabe departs Hobart for Macquarie Island later today I won’t be aboard. The passenger capacity of the ship is only enough for essential logistical operations (like refuelling and provisioning the research station) and personnel changeover. The week long sojourn at Macquarie Island ordinarily provides an opportunity for researchers such as botanists, geomorphologists and zoologists to undertake intensive fieldwork. The Aurora Australis has ample capacity, with 116 passenger berths, to accommodate round-trip research. Unfortunately, the Aurora was damaged during a severe blizzard in the Antarctic and the smaller replacement vessel can carry only 50 passengers.
So rather than collecting new data on the Macquarie Island vegetation I am going to Plan B, which involves methodically examining hundreds of photographs of Macquarie Island, dating from 1980 through until last year. This, hopefully, will reveal some long-term trends in vegetation change as well as a good picture of the current status of the vegetation. Combined with detailed data from long-term vegetation monitoring plots and analysis of satellite images covering the whole island at different time periods I will be asking what grows where and why? (or why not?).
The upside is that I won’t be on the notoriously seasickness-inducing L’Astrolabe in the 8 metre plus swells predicted south of Tasmania tomorrow!