Sunday, November 18, 2007

Why is Antarctica important?

Antarctica: A Flying Tour of the Frozen Continent

The Antarctic continent is one of the harshest and most inhospitable places on earth, yet despite this a myriad of species manage to survive in the desolate landscape. By contrast, the surrounding ocean abounds with life, as nutrient rich water wells up from the depths.

The ice cap in the center of the continent holds over half of the worlds freshwater. From it’s edges mighty glaciers pour across the landscape forming rivers of ice. It is from within these icy depths that scientists hope to un-ravel the secrets of the long-term fluctuations in the earth’s climate.

As nations wage war across the planet, Antarctica stands nation-less under the International Antarctic Treaty, to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes in the interests of all mankind. With freedom of scientific investigation Antarctica has become the world’s largest laboratory.

Climate change is now recognized as a global phenomenon. In the last 50 years the Antarctic Peninsula has increased about 2.5°C, this is 2 or 3 times faster than averages anywhere else. In the last 5 years numerous large ice shelves, once thought to be stable, have disintegrated into the ocean in a matter of weeks. This observed trend does not bode well for the future.

A hundred years ago the Antarctic challenge was a race to reach the South Pole. Today the challenge is one of science and stewardship. For it is through scientific exploration that we will come to understand, appreciate and ultimately protect this harsh, yet fragile environment.

Antarctica Time lapse: A Year on Ice

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