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Antarctica and climate change - representatives of 32 nations decide on research focus programmes for the exploration of Antarct


Antarctica and climate change – representatives of 32 nations decide on research focus programmes for the exploration of Antarctica

Exploration of Antarctica is of great significance in the context of discussions about global climate change. For this reason, the international Antarctic research community has just re-defined and coordinated its scientific programmes within a recent meeting of the international committee responsible for Antarctic research coordination SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research). In the future, all projects will be combined into five focus categories, all of which deal with effects of climate change in Antarctica and with the role the Antarctic plays within the global climate system.

Now these focal programmes were accepted and finalised by the delegates of the 32 SCAR member states. Following an invitation from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the delegates met for consultation in Bremerhaven at the beginning of October. Work within the focal programmes will commence in early 2005. Coordination of activities will contribute significantly to implementation of the ‘International Polar Year’ (IPY) 2007/2008.

The focal programmes are as follows:

1. AGCS – Antarctica and the global climate system

Antarctica is not strictly isolated from the rest of the planet, but is closely linked to the global climate system. Within the AGCS programme, the roles of atmospheric and polar marine components of this system will be explored. Investigations of the focal programme will be based on atmospheric physical, chemical and oceanographic data. In addition, glaciological records from ice cores and satellite data will be used, as well as results from both global and regional computer models that regard ocean and atmosphere as a coupled system. The computer models will contribute to an examination of how climate fluctuations in the tropics and in temperate zones reach the Antarctic and vice versa. The ultimate goal is to understand the functioning of the current climate system and how it is influenced by human activities. In addition, the programme will develop climate predictions for the upcoming 100 years.

2. ACE – Antarctic climate evolution

This focal programme is devoted to interdisciplinary study of past climate, its fluctuations and the history of glaciation in Antarctica. ACE studies will be based on geophysical investigations in and around Antarctica, on analyses of ice cover as well as on climate models. The goal will be to identify processes that regulate Antarctic climate change and link it to global climate change. ACE will provide detailed case studies of past climate change, which will be used to test computer models of future change in the Antarctic.

3. EBA – Evolution and biodiversity in the Antarctic

The geographic isolation of the Antarctic makes it an important field laboratory of evolution. Environmental changes affect the properties and dynamics of Antarctic habitats. EBA aims to better understand the underlying processes and to assess how organisms and species communities respond to present and future environmental changes. EBA integrates investigations of marine, terrestrial and fresh water ecosystems. Through a comparison of parallel evolutionary processes at different levels of organisation – from molecules to organisms and communities – as well as across the full range of Antarctic habitats, scientists hope to acquire fundamental insights into the mechanisms governing responses of living organisms to change.

4. ICESTAR – Interhemispheric conjugacy effects in solar-terrestrial and aeronomy research

ICESTAR is concerned with the space surrounding the earth (geospace) where the solar wind meets the outer atmosphere (ionosphere, magnetosphere) and interacts with it. Such interactions, e.g. northern lights, can be observed particularly well in polar regions. Nevertheless, large gaps in knowledge about the interactions remain.
The goal of ICESTAR is to investigate and predict global geospehric status and ‘space weather’. The latter, especially, carries some risk of damage to electronic equipment and communication technology in space and on earth – amenities upon which society depends.

5. SALE – Subglacial Antarctic lake environment

Beneath the Antarctic ice cover there are a large number of isolated lakes with environmental conditions similar to those of the young earth and other planets. SALE provides scientists with the opportunity to investigate these habitats, their development and biodiversity. Exploration of sediments deposited in these lakes will lead to further information about the climate history of Antarctica, a topic also included in the other focal programmes. Similarly, the other programmes contribute information on glaciation of Antarctica and, hence, on the formation and development of the under-ice lakes.

Torsten Fischer | alfa
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