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Fantasea Cruises' new Onboard Radiometer will aid vital Climate Research

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09 March 2006

Whitsundays-based Fantasea Cruises and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) will today launch a unique on-board radiometer that will sample sea surface temperatures critical to coral bleaching and climate research.


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AIMS radiometer mounted on the Fantasea One catamaran.

Image: Mike Mahoney


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AIMS radiometer viewed from the top deck of Fantasea One.

Image: Mike Mahoney

Perched above the bridge ofFantasea One, the automated radiometer custom-built by AIMS enables scientists to be updated on sea surface temperatures (SST) while they are working hundreds of kilometres away in their laboratories at Cape Ferguson (near Townsville).

A radiometer is a thermometer, which measures the temperature of the ocean using the infra-red radiation (heat) emitted from the surface.

AIMS Physical Oceanographer Craig Steinberg said the Fantasea One has the only ship-borne radiometer worldwide working regularly in the tropics, which makes the readings significant for climate change scientists internationally.

"Instead of receiving information from a handful of temperature data loggers retrieved every six months AIMS will now receive SST data seven days a week.

Fantasea One travels daily between Shute Harbour and the Reefworld floating adventure platform at the outer Hardy Reef. With the radiometer on board it will provide SST samples over 40 kilometres in addition to information from a full weather station permanently located on the Reefworld pontoon.

"This invaluable project couldn't exist without the cooperation and commitment from Fantasea Cruises' founder and managing director David Hutchen who appreciates the full value of this information and the very real threat of warming seas," Mr Steinberg said.

Mr Hutchen is chairman of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators and has been a long-time advocate of measures which will protect the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. "We carry approximately one million passengers a year on our eight vessels, with more than 70,000 visitors travelling to Reefworld to see the wonders of the deep," said Mr Hutchen.

"While our reef tours give people from all over the world an amazing and sometimes life-changing experience we have a duty to protect the reef and preserve it for the enjoyment of future generations."

SST holds the key to understanding many aspects of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). It strongly influences fish distributions and the abundance and variety of marine species. Water temperature is a major cause of stress in corals. During 18, 2002 and again this year significant proportions of the GBR were bleached due to elevated SSTs.

Corals that survived produced less spawn the following year while disease outbreaks increased. Seagrass beds have been burned affecting grazing herbivores such as dugongs. The information gathered from satellite images and this radiometer will help shed light on the impact SST has on the Great Barrier Reef.

AIMS remote sensing specialist Mike Mahoney downloads the radiometer measurements and compares them with data from orbiting satellite sensors to calculate the error created by "looking" through the atmosphere. "Aerosols such as dust, cloud and water vapour can be a source of error. This system ensures the satellite measurements across the Great Barrier Reef are accurate."

Mike Mahoney said the device designed by AIMS electronics experts is the most advanced yet for measuring changes in temperature across our seas. "They have fabricated the sophisticated radiometer system from start to finish at the AIMS workshops at Cape Ferguson."

Additional Information:

  • Fantasea Cruises has achieved Advanced Eco Accreditation with Ecotourism Australia for all of its cruise products.
  • The radiometer data also contributes to an international project gathering a high-resolution daily temperature map of the world's oceans.
  • Daily satellite imagery of the Coral Sea and the GBR is now available to the public via the world wide web

Media Contacts:

Wendy Ellery , AIMS Media Liaison

Phone: 07 4753 4409; 0418 729 265

David Gibbs , dgmedia p/l

Phone: 07 4946 4094; 0411 671 627