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Antarctica is being increasingly viewed less as a scientific curiosity and more as a key part in the fabric of Earth's dynamic systems. Its relevance as a legitimate location for intensive scientific investigation cannot be questioned, which is why so many countries are actively involved in Antarctic science. This international scale, therefore, necessitates clear and open communication between nations. Large scale planning of future programs and initiatives along with cooperative problem solving are essential when tackling thorny research issues.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that global mean temperatures will rise by between 1°C and 3.5°C by the year 2100; their "best" estimate is 2.0°C.
- Studies on the ice sheet and its contributionto world sea level rise are vital to our understanding of global change.
Some major new international programs are already underway.
In astronomy, there is great interest in constructing some large telescopes at the South Pole for international use. Geophysicists are sharing data to provide a more comprehensive picture of the ocean floor. In addition, an international team of geologists is drilling a deep core at Cape Roberts in the Ross Antarctica Sea to investigate the history of continental glaciation.
The processes taking place now in the Antarctic affect the world's climate and its oceans, linking the continent inextricably to what we experience thousands of kilometres away.
There has been much speculation that climate change could lead to a collapse of the polar ice sheets. Future ice sheet predictions must be based on reliable models of climate and an understanding of the dynamics of Antarctic ice. This research in turn is crucial to painting a clearer picture of global climate change. What's more, the evidence for ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere has strengthened the need for continued atmospheric research.
In all these efforts, there is a genuine attempt to utilize the unique characteristics of Antarctica to answer key scientific questions. With the latest technology and sophisticated equipment scientists involved in the mapping of the Antarctic will be able to assess more accurately than ever before the changing continent.
Geographical information systems can process widely differing types of data to gain better understanding of how glaciology interacts with meteorology and geology. At the same time, scientists are working to protect the continent for the future. Antarctic science may be a long way from home, but it is important and relevant science-now and for the future.
- Locked up in its 4 km thick ice sheet is a record of past climate for the last 500,000 years.
- Trapped bubbles in the ice hold an archive of atmospheric gases.
- Evidence for levels of global pollution by industry, agriculture and atomic bombs is frozen into the ice.
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