The Arctic and Antarctic evoke images of virgin territories playing host to a rich variety of flora, fauna and indigenous populations, but also a hardy group of intrepid researchers and explorers. A special issue of RTD info, produced with the International Polar Foundation, joins the exploration of the poles’ vast scientific wonders.
The European Commission’s flagship research publication RTD info takes readers on a journey to the ends of the Earth in its exploration of polar research. “A voyage to the polar regions of the world is also a trip through time and history,” notes the special issue of RTD info. For climate researchers, the poles are a frozen archive of global climatic change, helping them unravel what has happened in the past to better understand the future. Sample cores drilled from deep polar ice sheets allow scientists to monitor the impact of global warming and validate simulation models of future changes to the Earth’s climate system.
This issue describes the leading role that European teams are playing in diverse scientific fields – including glaciology, climatology, astronomy and the life sciences – and the importance of international co-operation in this research. Because of the harsh, cold and remote working conditions, “polar researchers … often rely on specially adapted methods and technologies to carry out their work”. This makes it a complex and costly activity, but essential nonetheless. And the more scientists learn about the two poles, the more striking their differences appear. With a long history of human settlement in the Arctic, research activities – i.e. marine biology and environmental studies – are more developed than in Antarctica. But the south is catching up fast, spearheaded by international collaborative efforts made possible by the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.
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