The future of Antarctic scientific research

Within the stable political context of the Antarctic Treaty regime, science has flourished, achieving considerable prominence and an increasing global relevance. Issues such as stratospheric ozone depletion and enhanced ultraviolet effects, environmental and climatic archive from ice cores, detection of anthropogenic pollution, study of global climate change (such as the carbon cycle and sea level), and analysis of unique collections of meteorites have attracted and focused unprecedented international attention on Antarctica. In the future, major challenges will continue to emerge in Antarctic science, driven by conceptual breakthroughs, innovative field research, and rapidly developing technology. Today's fashionable topics such as global wanning, biodiversity, thecarbon pump, and ozone loss may soon fade. What will replace them remains uncertain. The study of the coupling of presently diverse whole-earth systems appears a possibility: the biogeochemical coupling of landmasses, oceans, and ice geared to the study and provision of new food resources, to meet the demands of a world population in exponential growth, will feature considerably in the next century and involve much Antarctic research. Future science will develop against a backdrop of heightening external pressures: (1) the competing demands from the AntarcticTreaty System, including environmental concerns and possible operating restrictions, and the requirement to provide expert opinion from specialised research, (2) increasing problems of the coordination of an expanding and diverse scientific community, (3) the high cost and level of sophistication of modern research, and (4) accountability, particularly in respect of quality scientific results. Within each of these areas national programmes will assess and determine priorities for the future, which will severely test existing systems for collaboration, logistics sharing, and financial underpinning. Attention will need to be directed at a critical evaluation of the international mechanisms and frameworks for establishing the details of the Antarctic scientific agenda, and its meshing with discipline-based research in general.


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Authors: Drewry, David J.

1 January, 1993
Polar Record / 29
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