Lismore has just become the capital of Australia’s first international climate and oceanic research organisation – and its founder has set a very high bar for its first expedition.
The Oceanic Research Institute will operate oceanic and climate research expeditions in the Pacific and the Arctic.
It is headed by Earle de Blonville, who led the first Australian expedition to the region back in 1985-6.
The institute’s first expeditions will be to the Arctic to try and discover one of the greatest puzzles of modern climate science: why the frozen coast of East Greenland is melting so fast given that surface temperatures there haven’t been noticeably rising.
It will be the first-ever scientific investigation of the region and the results will be of significance to climate scientists globally, according to Mr de Blonville.
Massive ice melt
‘On the east coast of Greenland, surface temperatures are not increasing as the polar current sends supercooled water running through the sea that keeps Greenland super cold,’ Mr de Blonville told Echonetdaily.
‘Yet Greenland contributes 65 per cent of ice melt – far greater than the Antarctic – that is driving sea level rise,’ he said.
‘Over the last four years, Greenland has tipped one trillion tons of ice into the sea. When melted, that’s enough water to refill the whole of Sydney Harbour 240 times, and will help create more Cyclone Debbies,’ he added.
Mr de Blonville said the main theory currently circulating is that a small breakaway stream from the Jetstream, known as the Irminger Current, had changed course and was now ‘running across south Iceland and maybe coming up into fjords’.
‘The purpose of the expedition is to “ground truth” this theory,’ he said.
The Oceanic Research Institute’s explorers are an international team of experts, from NASA in the US, LAB in Spain and our own Southern Cross University in Lismore.
Wooden sailing ships
The institute is also unique because it is the only climate and oceanic organisation in the world to operate aboard classic wooden sailing vessels.
Their flagship is a massive 34m Baltic schooner, launched in 1913 and built for ice navigation.
‘Being made of solid oak, it is the only truly sustainable research vessel in the world. Operating under sail, it aims for zero carbon and acoustic emissions, which is vital when studying whales,’ Mr de Blonville said.
Fundraising film nights
The work of the institute is being funded privately through sponsorship and fundraising efforts.
To help raise funds, it is staging a series of film evenings in our region during September.
The film, Savage Coast, is a documentary made of the original 1985-6 expedition led by Mr de Blonville.
It tells the tale of a 1,000km sea kayak voyage, which its four-man team miraculously survived during winter snow storms blowing 260kph (140knots).
Shot in East Greenland, and distributed internationally through major broadcasters at the time, it is the first chance to see the film for many years.
Filmgoers will see what the uninhabited Greenland wilderness looked like before the massive melt began.
The one-hour film will be introduced Mr de Blonville, who was the then expedition leader, and afterwards there will be a Q&A session where the audience can gain unbiased insights into both the challenges and the opportunities offered by climate crisis.
Screening dates & times
Kyogle Cinemas, Kyogle (September 5); Star Court Theatre, Lismore (September 15); A&I Theatre, Bangalow (September 28).
Tickets at the door.