2017 News

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research – 60 Years and Beyond

16 May 2017:

SCAR logo blue backgroundIn 1957, the International Council of Scientific Unions (now the International Council for Science, ICSU) invited 12 nations active in Antarctic research each to send a delegate to a Special Committee on Antarctic Research. The Committee held its first meeting at The Hague early in 1958.

SCAR will turn 60 in this coming (2017-2018) Antarctic season.

Over these 60 years, SCAR (now the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) has continued to facilitate scientific research in, from and about the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region and to provide evidence-based scientific advice to a range of bodies. How it has done so, and how it has had to change in concert with a changing world is in part the subject of a recent history1. The challenges lying further ahead for the region scientifically, and in the realm of research support, have also been comprehensively examined2-4. We set out in brief here what SCAR’s immediate future plans are in the context of the new Strategic Plan5.

Given its role as a subsidiary body of ICSU, SCAR will continue to advance, facilitate and promote scientific research in, from and about Antarctica. Several developments will significantly influence these undertakings.

First is a world that seems more inclined now, than over the past 60 years, to dismiss scientific evidence. Or at the very least to confuse it with rhetoric. When appreciation of the value of scientific evidence diminishes, or that evidence is ignored because it is inconvenient, support for science is questioned. SCAR will strengthen its role in demonstrating the value of Antarctic research, in all of its forms, including within the social sciences and humanities, and in arguing for its support.

SCAR will strengthen its engagement within the Antarctic Treaty, to which it is an observer, and it will seek to broaden the base of support for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research. It will do so with new and stronger international partnerships, the encouragement of new Members, and through the exploration of new means to sustain its activities. Traditional avenues of support for research facilitation and coordination may dwindle, but alternative means for doing so are expanding. For example, this past Antarctic season (2016-2017) has seen a sea change in activity with philanthropic, national and international partners supporting the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition6. The activity mirrors the substantial support from the Sloan Foundation for the Circum-Antarctic Census of Marine Life, which contributed to the publication of the Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean7. SCAR intends to work with its Members to see all lines of support for its activities grow.

A second challenging global development is what appears to be a growing trend to attempt to limit collaboration and/or the exchange of information internationally. In this regard, ICSU’s position on scientific exchange is clear, as is that of the Antarctic Treaty – such exchange is essential, and is to be encouraged, facilitated and supported. SCAR will continue to do so through its meetings, its publications and its public interface. In particular, it will also grow its suite of capacity building endeavours. For these, SCAR will be further building regional support for regional capacity growth. SCAR is indeed an international organization, but its Members all have domestic and regional settings that can be strategic in building capacity for Antarctic research and the exchange that improves its outcomes.

A third challenge is the rapid pace of environmental change, and the growing sustainability problems it is bringing. The roles of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in climate change and sea-level rise are especially significant. SCAR will, through its activities, rise to meet these most urgent of problems. In particular, it will continue to provide rigorous, defensible scientific evidence to the Antarctic Treaty System (e.g., to the Committee for Environmental Protection and to the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources), especially in an environmental context. But SCAR will also expand its partnerships, such as its engagement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In particular, SCAR recognizes the importance of the virtually global adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals8, and actions to give effect to them, such as Future Earth9.

Research undertaken by SCAR Members is clearly important in the context of Sustainable Development Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; Goal 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources; and Goal 15 Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss. Conveying the evidence-based, policy outcomes of that research lies firmly within SCAR’s overall strategy. Indeed, SCAR has already started to do so. For example, it has recently undertaken work, with much partner support, to investigate the status of Antarctic biodiversity and its conservation in the context of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 developed under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Assessments of progress against this Strategic Plan for Biodiversity clearly contribute to understanding progress in realising, most notably, Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15.  The Monaco Assessment10,11 reflects SCAR’s strategy to develop new partnerships, supported in ways that illustrate the changing array of opportunities to support research facilitation and the communication of scientific evidence.

SCAR activities, and the way SCAR facilitates research, builds capacity and conveys information are important to other Sustainable Development Goals too. These include Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning; Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries; Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production practises. SCAR intends to work with ICSU and with other organizations (such as the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs) to help facilitate research and activities to realise these goals, and to provide evidence to show that policies are having the desired effects.

Much of what SCAR will achieve over the next five years will depend on its Members and the individual researchers, operators and administrators that constitute this membership. Only through what are largely voluntary contributions from these individuals will SCAR’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan5 be realized. In a world that seems in growing part sceptical of science, evidence, and voluntary contributions, we remain heartened by the undiminished enthusiasm of these individuals for SCAR, and by their appreciation of the global significance of research in, from and about Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Antarctica and the Southern Ocean’s roles on the global stage will grow, and as they do so will the obligations of Antarctic and Southern Ocean researchers. SCAR will continue to recognize those researchers who best exemplify work to meet these obligations, in all their forms, and will work with its Membership to see this done in other settings too.

Steven L Chown, Jenny Baeseman, Azizan bin Abu Samah, Karin Lochte, Jerónimo López-Martínez, Jefferson C Simões, Terry Wilson


  1. Walton, D.W.H. & Clarkson, P.D. with Summerhayes, C.P. 2011. Science in the Snow. Fifty Years of International Collaboration through the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Cambridge.
  2. Kennicutt II, M.C., Chown, S.L., Cassano, J.J., Liggett, D., Massom, R., Peck, L.S., et al. 2014. Six priorities for Antarctic science. Nature 512, 23-25.
  3. Kennicutt II, M.C., Chown, S.L., Cassano, J.J., Liggett, D., Peck, L.S., Massom, R., et al. 2015. A roadmap for Antarctic and Southern Ocean science for the next two decades and beyond. Antarctic Science 27, 3-18
  4. Kennicutt II, M.C., Kim, Y.D., Rogan-Finnemore, M., Anandakrishnan, S., Chown, S.L., Colwell, S., et al. 2016. Delivering 21st Century Antarctic and Southern Ocean science. Antarctic Science 28, 407-423.
  5. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. 2017. SCAR Strategic Plan 2017-2022: Connecting and Building Antarctic Research. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.229139
  6. Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition. Available from: http://spi-ace-expedition.ch/
  7. Broyer, C., Koubbi, P., Griffiths, H.J., Raymond, B., d U D'Acoz, C., van de Putte, A., et al. 2014. Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Cambridge.
  8. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Available from: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
  9. Future Earth. http://www.futureearth.org/
  10. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. The Monaco Assessment. Available from: http://www.scar.org/155-policy-advice/monaco-assessment
  11. Chown, S.L., Brooks, C.M., Terauds, A., Le Bohec, C., Van Klaveren-Impagliazzo, C., Whittington, J.D., et al. 2017. Antarctica and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. PLoS Biology 15, e2001656.