Grand Challenge 1. Polar Change

Challenge 1. Polar Change – understanding the causes and impacts of change in polar systems

The issue

In recent decades, the polar regions have been amongst the most rapidly changing on the planet. Both north and south, observations have shown major shifts in atmospheric, cryospheric, oceanic and ecological processes.

Since 1979, summer sea-ice extent in the Arctic has reduced at 10% per decade; while in the Antarctic rapid, contrasting regional changes in sea-ice are occurring. Some major glaciers that drain the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated by as much as 50% and are now important contributors to global sea-level rise. The speed of these changes means that most of the Arctic, and part of the Antarctic, are seen as “hotspots” of global change.

In future, change in the polar regions is expected to continue and without delay, we must understand the rate and magnitude of changes likely to occur, and their impact on polar environments and ecologies. We must identify thresholds that, once exceeded, will lead to irreversible impacts, and feedbacks that will magnify or limit change. To achieve this will require integrated studies of key fundamental processes, long-term observation and analyses of historical data.

Working in camp during windy weather. Glaciology field camp on Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica.

Our expertise

Through our unique interdisciplinary capacity, BAS has established a leading role in understanding of the causes and consequences of change in polar systems. Bringing together scientists with very different expertise, we develop novel approaches to understand the causes of change in physical, chemical and biological processes in polar systems.   Our mature network of monitoring activities within the Antarctic allows us to quantify variability, and measure and understand change.