Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

80 questions about the southern tip of the world

12.08.2014

The international Antarctic community formulates tomorrow’s challenges to research.

A forward-looking article by 75 leading Antarctic researchers and science managers from 22 countries appeared online in the scientific journal Nature on 6 August.


Base for German Antarctic research: Neumayer Station III near Atka Bight at the Weddell Sea

Photo: Stefan Christmann / Alfred-Wegener-Institut

The so-called “SCAR Horizon Scan” catalogues the 80 most pressing questions to be pursued during the next 20 years of research in the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean. In this interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, three scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research contributed to working out the topics that now establish the thrust of Antarctic research.

How does the surface of the Earth look below the Antarctic ice, which itself is several kilometres thick? Which structures provide the ice sheet with a foothold and how far could the grounding lines for glaciers retreat, causing an increase in the number of icebergs calved?

The formation of deep water in the Southern Ocean is of global significance; how might this change if, through such processes, increased fresh water is released into the deep sea? How far to the north will hydrodynamics change in the area that drives the currents in the world’s oceans? How quickly will the change in the Antarctic take place and do we know of comparable developments in past eras?

These questions are the ones which biologists ask of geoscientists and oceanographers, for example, enabling them to estimate how not just individual species but also entire populations of flora and fauna would react. In future, concentration is to be focused on the effects of frequently observed combinations of multiple environmental factors as they change, instead of just individual factors. Whether organisms adapt, migrate or die off will, in part, depend upon the tempo of the changes. The survival of the community of living beings and its adaptability are essential to ecosystem outputs.

The smallest of algae in the Southern Ocean, for instance, produce oxygen and extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If there is a change in their rate of photosynthesis, then this influences the concentration of the gases in water and, via the exchange of gases, has an effect on the atmosphere. Climatologists then use the results of detailed studies of these processes, ultimately incorporating them into climate models.

Thus the interactions between the atmosphere, land, water, ice and living beings – as well as potential changes in ecosystem outputs in response to changed environmental conditions – can be depicted in a way that is closer to reality.

Large areas of the Antarctic present major technical and logistics problems to science if scientific endeavour is to achieve the research targets that have been set. Storms and ice floes make it necessary to use icebreakers as research ships when exploring the Southern Ocean. Antarctica is the coldest and stormiest continent on our planet. Individuals have to expend great effort to conduct field work beyond the 64 research stations.

The operation and supply of the stations themselves require extensive polar logistics. That alone is reason enough for the international community of Antarctic researchers to be excellently networked. One example is the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Science (SCAR), which initiated the horizon scan now being published.

“Bundling the future-oriented questions presented by the wide variety of disciplines involved in Antarctic research was itself an exciting process,” reports Prof. Heinrich Miller, geophysicist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Together with AWI director and SCAR vice president Prof. Karin Lochte and AWI biologist Prof. Julian Gutt, Miller consolidated in a SCAR horizon workshop and three discussion sessions the suggestions presented by the scientific community, thus forming six priorities for Antarctic science. “We have been successful in formulating 80 questions of concern to Antarctic researchers. In ten or twenty years we can determine how far we have come and whether relevance has shifted,” Miller continues.

In the Nature study, the 75 authors formulated the basic prerequisites needed so that international commitment in the Antarctic will continue to correspond to the continent’s significance to the planet as a whole. The core demands here are for sustained and stable funding, access to all of Antarctica throughout the year, application of newly developed technologies, strengthened environmental protection, growth in international cooperation, and improved communication among scientists, logistics experts, those funding research, political decision-makers and the public.

In addition to the questions in the fields of climate science, geology and biology, the authors consider political factors, including the leading role of the Antarctic Treaty. Among other aspects, the Treaty regulates the peaceful use of the area beyond the 60th parallel south and governs free international collaboration in research.

The authors view the prerequisites for protected marine areas; they also observe socioeconomic aspects, genetic resources, and potential future developments in tourism and fishery in the Antarctic. Nor is space research neglected. The clean air over the Antarctic permits an especially clear view of space. Thus the authors point out how the great potentials of Antarctic research can be used in many fields relevant to society.

Original study: Mahlon C. Kennicutt II, Steven L. Chown et al.: “Six Priorities for Antarctic Research“, Comment in Nature 512, 23–25; 7 August 2014 (doi:10.1038/512023a). The catalogue of 80 questions is available there as supplementary material (see pdf file on Nature website: "Antarctic Science Horizon Scan Method and Questions").


Notes for Editors:
Please find printable photos at: http://www.awi.de/index.php?id=7269

Your contact at the Alfred Wegener Institute is Professor Julian Gutt (e-mail to arrange a date for a phone call: Julian.Gutt(at)awi.de).

Your contact at the Dept. of Communications and Media Relations is Dr Folke Mehrtens (Phone: +49 / 471 / 4831-2007; e-mail: medien(at)awi.de).

Follow the Alfred Wegener Institute on Twitter and Facebook. In this way you receive all the current reports as well as information on interesting everyday stories drawn from the work and people of the Institute.

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid-latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Ralf Röchert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.awi.de

Further reports about: AWI Antarctic Antarctica Helmholtz Helmholtz-Zentrum Horizon Meeresforschung Ocean SCAR atmosphere concentration

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA examines newly formed Tropical Depression 3W in 3-D
26.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle
25.04.2017 | Rice University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>