Climate & climate change

The scientific evidence that the world’s climate is changing is extensive and clear. Understanding the role of the Polar Regions in climate change is not only a huge scientific challenge but also an urgent priority for society.

The Antarctic is a pivotal part of the Earth’s climate system and a sensitive barometer of environmental change. Although remote and inhospitable, Antarctica is Earth’s most powerful natural laboratory. Understanding how the Antarctic is responding to current climate change – and what the continent was like in the past – is essential if scientists are to be able to more accurately predict future climate change and provide accurate information to politicians and policy makers.

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.

Antarctic ice cores reveal the clearest link between levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the Earth’s temperature. They show that the temperature of the climate and the levels of greenhouse gases are intimately linked. In 2004, ice core scientists at BAS working together with colleagues from other European nations successfully extracted a three-kilometre ice core from the Antarctic. This core contains a record of the Earth’s climate stretching back 800,000 years – giving us by far the oldest continuous climate record yet obtained from ice cores.

BAS geologists can look back even further in time. By studying Antarctic rocks and sediments from the sea and lake beds, they are able to get a picture of what the Antarctic was like millions of years ago when the continent was warm and supported plants and animals such as dinosaurs. Understanding how the ice sheets that currently cover the continent developed and how they have receded in the past is essential if we are to be able to predict how those ice sheets will behave in a warmer world.

Much of BAS science is done on the Antarctic Peninsula – one of the fastest warming parts of the planet. BAS glaciologists are also studying the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, parts of which are thinning rapidly. Their work is crucial to understanding whether this thinning could signal the start of the ice sheet’s collapse, an event that would cause sea levels to rise much more than currently predicted.

On sea as well as on land, BAS scientists are investigating climate change. As the waters warm around Antarctica, ecologists at BAS are looking at how penguins, seals and the other species that make up one of the world’s largest marine ecosystems are responding.

Because the causes and effects of climate change are extraordinarily complex, assembling all the pieces of the climate change jigsaw is a huge challenge. By conducting world-class science in the Antarctic, BAS is making a significant contribution to meeting this challenge.

Weddell Sea ice sheet and climate

13 July, 2015

In the south of the Weddell Sea lies the Ronne and Filchner Ice Shelves. During the coldest part of the last glacial period about 25,000 years ago, the ice in …

The role of Antarctic sea-ice in global climate

10 July, 2015

Sea-ice is frequently cited as a likely driver and propagator of abrupt climate change because of the rapid and far-reaching impact of its feedbacks. However, numerical climate models are still …

Climate and Ice during the Last Interglacial

10 July, 2015

During the Last Interglacial (129-116 thousand years ago, ka) CO2 and global temperature were both higher than they were before human industrialisation. By examining Last Interglacial climate, we thus gain …

Antarctic Climate over the last millennia

10 July, 2015

The Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica have warmed dramatically in recent decades, with some climate records indicating that these are among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. The Antarctic …

Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Sea-Surface

9 July, 2015

  In order to assess the impact of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) on the oceans today we are investigating the effect of decreasing upper ocean pH on calcifying zooplankton. Pteropods, …


17 June, 2015

EU-PolarNet will develop and deliver a strategic framework and mechanisms to prioritise science, optimise the use of polar infrastructure and broker new partnerships


28 April, 2015

visualising BAS polar data sets to create art works that engage, inform and inspire

The Ozone Layer

18 May, 2015

It’s nearly 30 years since the discovery of the Ozone Hole drew world attention to the impact of human activity on the global environment. Why is the ozone layer important? …

Ice cores and climate change

18 May, 2015

Slices of ice core, drilled from the depths of the Earth’s ice sheets, reveal details of the planet’s past climate. Introduction Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled out of …

Antarctica and climate change

18 May, 2015

According to the IPCC fifth assessment report, it is extremely likely (95-100% confidence) that human activities have been the dominant driver of global climate change since the mid-20th century. Antarctica, …

NEWS STORY: Polar ice cores reveal volcanic eruptions

8 July, 2015

Polar ice cores reveal volcanic eruptions that changed human history Researchers find new evidence that large eruptions were responsible for cold temperature extremes recorded since early Roman times A freshly …

NEWS STORY: Frozen in to the Arctic winter

10 March, 2015

Extreme science in extreme conditions: frozen in to the Arctic winter Dr Markus Frey, a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ice and atmospheric scientist, is living and working aboard the Norwegian …

NEWS STORY: Events in Cambridge and Manchester

6 February, 2015

‘Ice-Spy in the Antarctic’ Thursday 19 February 11.00 – 11:25 14:00 – 14:25 Cambridge Science Centre, Jesus Lane, Cambridge How do you track the ice that floats in the polar …

PRESS RELEASE: Mapping the ice from below

24 November, 2014

Underwater robot sheds new light on Antarctic sea ice The first detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice have been developed using an underwater robot. Scientists from the UK, …

NEWS STORY: Sea ice minimum explained

18 September, 2014

Arctic sea ice summer minimum 2014: A scientific perspective The Arctic sea ice minimum marks the day – typically in September – when sea ice reaches its smallest extent at …

NEWS STORY: Changes in winds in south

12 May, 2014

Ocean winds keep Australia dry and Antarctica cold New research explains why Antarctica is not warming as much as other continents, and why southern Australia is recording more droughts. Analysis …

NEWS STORY: Unlocking clues to past climate

1 May, 2014

Earth’s last warm phase exposed Analysis of data collected from ice cores and marine sediment cores in both polar regions has given scientists a clearer picture of how the Earth’s …

NEWS STORY: Arctic sea ice trends

13 February, 2014

British Antarctic Survey coordinates Arctic sea-ice investigation Arctic sea-ice cover is retreating at an unprecedented rate. Scientists fear we may see the complete loss of sea ice during the summer …

PRESS RELEASE: Antarctic emperor penguins

8 January, 2014

Antarctic emperor penguins may be adapting to warmer temperatures A new study of four Antarctic emperor penguin colonies suggest that unexpected breeding behaviour may be a sign that the birds …

NEWS STORY: World’s coldest place identified

12 December, 2013

Scientists working at the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said this week they have identified the coldest place on Earth using satellite observations of surface temperature. …

NEWS STORY: Climate records from ice cores

5 December, 2013

New ice core record shows climate variability in West Antarctica A 308-year ice core record provides new data on climate variability in coastal West Antarctica and shows that a clear …

NEWS STORY: IPCC climate report published today

27 September, 2013

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is published today. The report entitled Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, presents a synthesis of …

NEWS STORY: Storm events link identified

17 April, 2013

Jet stream influences extreme storms A new study of Europe’s extreme storm events reveals that they often occur near  the jet stream – the fast flowing air currents that flow …

PRESS RELEASE: Summer melt season extending

28 March, 2013

Summer melt season is getting longer on the Antarctic Peninsula, new data show New research from the Antarctic Peninsula shows that the summer melt season has been getting longer over …

NEWS STORY: Greenland ice shows past trends

23 January, 2013

Greenland ice core reveals warm past temperatures British Antarctic Survey scientists have contributed to a new study published in Nature (Thursday 24 January) that provides surprising details on changes in …

PRESS RELEASE: Antarctica’s climate timeline

22 August, 2012

New climate history adds to understanding of recent Antarctic Peninsula warming Results published this week by a team of polar scientists from Britain, Australia and France adds a new dimension …

PRESS RELEASE: Air flows explain record low

11 January, 2010

New research sheds light on Earth”s coldest temperatures Results from the first detailed analysis of the lowest ever temperature recorded on the Earth’s surface can explain why it got so …

PRESS RELEASE: Warmer spells detected in ice cores

18 November, 2009

Mysteriously warm times in Antarctica A new study of Antarctica’s past climate reveals that temperatures during the warm periods between ice ages (interglacials) may have been higher than previously thought. …