Antarctica and Climate

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are critically important parts of the Earth system. The climate and physical and biological properties of the continent and the surrounding ocean are closely coupled to other parts of the global environment by the ocean and the atmosphere. For example, the Antarctic ozone hole was one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the last century. For the last 30 years the ozone hole has shielded the bulk of Antarctica from some of the effects of global warming. Nevertheless, the Southern Ocean is warming and the ecosystems are responding. There has been a rapid expansion of plant communities across the Antarctic Peninsula. Parts of Antarctica are losing ice at a rapid rate and palaeoclimate studies in Antarctica show the current changes in global climate are unusual. If greenhouse gas concentrations were to double over the next century, Antarctica is expected to warm by as much as 3°C. Although new data are being collected and analyzed on an almost daily basis, major gaps in knowledge remain and additional instrumental data gathering is needed to improve models. Antarctic and global climate will remain areas of interest for the foreseeable future and continue to be a major component of SCAR science. Understanding of the dynamics of polar climate systems is rudimentary at best and a lack of fundamental knowledge limits predictions of future change with confidence. Much remains to be done to produce a truly integrated view of the planet's climate system and the role of Antarctica in it. SCAR programmes will continue to address these issues for the foreseeable future.

A detailed understanding of past climate is essential for a more complete understanding of climate variability and the forces that control future change and responses to change. As the continent most remote from direct human influence, Antarctica is an ideal location to study local-to-global scale climate change. There is no other approach or experiment that can provide perspectives across a range of time scales other than deciphering past climate change through proxies archived in ice and sedimentary records. Records on timescales of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of years stored in Antarctica have yet to be retrieved and analyzed. To fill gaps in records of past climate, retrieval of ice and sedimentary records continues to be a high priority. Major objectives for the geosciences community are to obtain geological records of past Antarctic ice sheet dynamics and integration of this knowledge into coupled ice sheet-climate models. Improved models are critical to constrain and improve the accuracy and precision of predictions of future changes in global and regional temperatures, ocean acidification and sea level. Much remains to be accomplished in deciphering palaeoclimate records and improving integrated Earth system models. These topics are a high priority for Antarctic geoscientists.

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