Climate change science into Antarctic policy

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has for the past 60 years been responsible for most of the UK’s scientific research in Antarctica and its current five-year research strategy is focussed on deepening our understanding of climate change.

In addition to contributions to the global and regional chapters and data for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) reports, since 2007, BAS has taken a leading role in chairing and participating  in the SCAR Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment group (ACCE), providing annual updates on Antarctic climate change to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). This has led to the development, co-led by BAS, of the The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) at the ATCM Climate Change Response Work Programme (2013-2016). Kevin Hughes of BAS convenes the Subsidiary Group on Climate Change Response, which facilitates implementation of the Work Programme.

BAS research between 2010 and 2017 on climate change has influenced CCAMLR discussions on integration of climate change in management decision-making (Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics; Cavanagh et al. 2017). Grant and Cavanagh instigated the development of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) Climate Change Response Work Plan agreed by Scientific Committee in 2017.  BAS scientists co-led a workshop with CCAMLR (2018) to develop projections of the impacts of climate change on krill populations as part of a long-term activity to inform management decision-making.

Based on BAS led research, a UK policy paper synthesising scientific information on how the 1.5°C IPCC scenario will impact the Antarctic Peninsula; noting it has already experienced rapid change in atmospheric climate, ocean and ice conditions, and human activities. The United Kingdom recommends that the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) and the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM):

  1. Considers the predictions of what a 1.5°C global-average temperature rise above pre-industrial levels means for the Antarctic Peninsula region, based on current scientific understandings; and
  2. Discusses the implications of the predicted changes for the work of the CEP and ATCM.

BAS scientific papers that contributed to the policy paper:

Cook, A.J., Vaughan, D.G., Luckman, A.J., Murray, T., 2014. A new Antarctic Peninsula glacier basin inventory and observed area changes since the 1940s. Antarctic Science 26, 614-624.

Cook, A.J., Holland, P.R., Meredith, M.P., Murray, T., Luckman, A., Vaughan, D.G., 2016. Ocean forcing of glacier retreat in the western Antarctic Peninsula. Science 353, 283-286.

Turner, J., S. R. Colwell, G. J. Marshall, T. A. Lachlan-Cope, A. M. Carleton, P. D. Jones, V; Lagun, P. A. Reid, and S. Iagovkina, 2005: Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years. Int. J. Climatol., 25, 279-294.

Turner, J., H. Lu, I. White, J. C. King, T. Phillips, J. S. Hosking, T. J. Bracegirdle, G. J. Marshall, R. Mulvaney, and P. Deb, 2016: Absence of 21st century warming on Antarctic Peninsula consistent with natural variability. Nature, 535, 411-415, doi:10.1038/nature18645.

Li, C., C. Michel, L. Seland Graff, I. Bethke, G. Zappa, T. J. Bracegirdle, E. Fischer, B. J. Harvey, T. Iversen, M. P. King, H. Krishnan, L. Lierhammer, D. Mitchell, J. Scinocca, H. Shiogama, D. A. Stone, and J. J. Wettstein, 2018: Midlatitude atmospheric circulation responses under 1.5 and 2.0 °C warming and implications for regional impacts. Earth. Syst. Dynam., 9, 359-382, doi:10.5195/esd-9-359-2018.

Thomas, E. R., G. J. Marshall, and J. R. McConnell, 2008: A doubling in snow accumulation in the western Antarctic Peninsula since 1850. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L01706, doi: 10.1029/2007GL032529.

Meredith, M. P., & Brandon, M. A. (2017). Oceanography and sea ice in the Southern Ocean. In D. N. Thomas (Ed.), Sea Ice (3rd ed) (pp. 216–238). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Turner, J., & Comiso, J. (2017). Solve Antarctica’s sea-ice puzzle. Nature, 547(7663), 275–277.

Turner, J., Hosking, J. S., Bracegirdle, T. J., Marshall, G. J., & Phillips, T. (2015). Recent changes in Antarctic Sea Ice. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 373(2045).

Bentley, M.J., Hodgson, D.A., Sugden, D.E., Roberts, S.J., Smith, J.A., Leng, M.J., Bryant, C. 2005. Early Holocene retreat of the George VI Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula.  Geology , 33 (3), 173-176. doi: 10.1130/G21203.1

Lee, J.R., Raymond, B., Bracegirdle, T.J., Chadès, I., Fuller, R.A., Shaw, J.D. & Terauds, A. 2017. Climate change drives expansion of Antarctic ice-free habitat. Nature, 547, 49–54, 10.1038/nature22996.

Peck, L.S., Convey, P. & Barnes, D.K.A. 2006. Environmental constraints on life histories in Antarctic ecosystems: tempos, timings and predictability. Biological Reviews 81, 75-109.

Convey, P. 2011. Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity in a changing world. Polar Biology 34, 1629-1641.


Annual updates to the ACCE Report

BAS contributes to updates to the ACCE Report are presented annually to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting:

pdf IP136: Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment – 2019 Update

pdf IP080: Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment – 2017 Update

pdf IP035: Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment – 2016 Update