Research priorities for Antarctic science

Three Victoria University of Wellington researchers have contributed to defining the strategic priorities for Southern Ocean and Antarctic science research for the next 20 years.

Professor Tim Naish, Professor Peter Barrett and Dr Nancy Bertler of the Antarctic Research Centre, based at Victoria, contributed to an article published today by international science journal Nature, which outlines six scientific themes and the steps that researchers and governments must take to make this vision a reality.

The priorities were identified earlier this year during a workshop coordinated by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), and funded by the Tinker Foundation, which brought together leading Antarctic scientists and policy-makers from 22 countries.

During the event, experts debated the most important research questions facing the continent in the next two decades, from an initial list more than 800 questions submitted from around the world.

The 80 most pressing questions have now been confirmed and themed into these six broad research priorities:

  • Define the global reach of the Antarctic atmosphere and Southern Ocean
  • Understand how, where and why ice sheets lose mass
  • Reveal Antarctica’s history
  • Learn how Antarctic life evolved and survived
  • Observe space and the Universe
  • Recognise and mitigate human influences

Professor Barrett says Antarctic scientists are concerned that rising greenhouse gases are melting the Antarctic ice sheet, changing ocean currents and acidifying the oceans, with ramifications for the rest of the planet. “We need to know more to gauge how big a problem this will be in the future, and how to respond,” he says.

Professor Naish, Director of the Antarctic Research Centre and recipient of the 2014 Martha T. Muse Prize for outstanding Antarctic research, adds that there is a need for international partnerships to respond to the challenges of Antarctica.

“The nature of Antarctic research is multidisciplinary, expensive, logistically complex, and can only really be achieved through multinational collaboration and the pooling of resources,” he says.

“The confirmation of the big issues facing Antarctica will facilitate that collaboration, and contribute to achieving the best outcomes from every dollar spent on Antarctic research.”

This is the first time that the international Antarctic community has formulated a collective vision. Dr Bertler says the conclusion reinforces that with a long standing history of leading and contributing to international, important science projects, the Antarctic Research Centre is ideally situated to help address critical challenges faced by society.

The results of the workshop will be officially launched at the SCAR Open Sciences Meeting on Monday 25 August where Professor Naish will present the ice sheet questions.

View the Nature article online: