Remote, isolated, and frozen all year, Antarctica is arguably the most untouched region on the planet. That makes it one of the world’s most important places to do scientific research and why scientists love Antarctica. Humans didn’t even catch a glimpse of Antarctica until 225 years ago. And only in the last 70 years have people begun to explore this vast polar desert in earnest. Today, scientists come to the South Pole from around the world to study climate, astrophysics, marine biology, geology, ecology, and more.
Captain James Cook was not impressed by Antarctica in 1775. He had been looking for a fabled continent rich in resources that he could claim for the British Empire. Instead, he found foul weather and endless ice. Cook, who qualified his failure to reach the continent of Antarctica by stating that the world would not ‘be profited’ by the discovery, would have been surprised to see just how important Antarctica has become for science.
But how could he have known about the importance of the Antarctic ice sheet to world climate and sea level, the special features of the high atmosphere that produce the southern lights, the remarkable food chains in the Southern Ocean, or the key role played by Antarctica in the origin of all the southern continents? Particularly in the last 65 years, Antarctica has come to play a central role in many scientific disciplines.
Of course, Antarctic science is expensive science. Scientists who work there follow three main tenets: only undertake the kind of science in Antarctica that cannot be done elsewhere in the world; only undertake the highest quality science; and if possible make sure it contributes to solving a global problem.
Despite the isolation and severe conditions of Antarctica, some of the research done there is vitally significant to the more populated areas of the world. The study of the increase in ultraviolet radiation, research on the world sea level and satellite communications are just a few examples.
To undertake any scientific research in Antarctica depends not only on the quality and commitment of the scientists themselves but also on the nature of the equipment and the facilities used. In many fields, state-of-the-art science can now be carried out in Antarctica. Research aquariums at Jubany, McMurdo, Palmer, Rothera and Terra Nova Bay stations provide a wealth of resources formarine biologists and the installation of automatic weather stations on the polar plateau has been crucial for meteorologists and climatologists.