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IP009: SCAR’s Annual Report

ATCM XXXII and CEP XII 2009, Baltimore, United States

Information Paper

IP009: SCAR’s Annual Report


The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) is the foremost, non-governmental organisation for initiating, developing, and coordinating high quality international scientific research in the Antarctic region including the study of Antarctica’s role in the Earth System.

During 2008, SCAR’s research continued focusing on five themes: (i) the modern ocean-atmosphere-ice system; (ii) the evolution of climate over the past 34 million years since glaciation began; (iii) the response of life to change; (iv) preparations to study subglacial lakes and their environs; and (v) the response of the Earth’s outer atmosphere to the changing impact of the solar wind at both poles. Highlights of recent scientific discoveries include:

  1. Decadal warming and freshening of intermediate-depth water masses across large regions of the Southern Ocean since the 1960s has likely been driven by decadal-scale changes in the major modes of Southern Hemisphere climate variability (such as the Southern Annular Mode, El Niño - Southern Oscillation and the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation). The same water masses show reduced oxygen content, suggesting a decline in the rate of ventilation of the Southern Ocean’s intermediate layers in that period.
  2. Direct sampling of Antarctic subglacial lakes is now close to becoming a reality. The subglacial lake community has proposed three programs (one each led by Russia, the UK, and the USA) to directly sample a lake beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. The Russian and UK proposals are funded and plan to enter Subglacial Lakes Vostok and Ellsworth within the next 2-4 years. The US plan to examine an entire watershed beneath the Mercer and Whillans Ice Streams beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is now in review.
  3. Application of traditional and molecular biological techniques to marine organisms and terrestrial microbes supports long-term persistence of biota across the Antarctic continent and continental shelf. In combination with programmes such as the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), and the increasing use of SCAR biodiversity databases, data are now available to provide a benchmark assessment of the status of Antarctic biodiversity, and objective advice on the status and threats of non-indigenous organisms.
  4. The NASA THEMIS mission shown that sudden auroral brightenings (at so called substorm onsets) are associated with a global disruption in the electric currents flowing across the near-Earth magnetotail. Tests of the extent to which auroral events in both hemispheres are joined together (inter-hemispheric conjugacy) have long shown that some auroral structures are synchronous and may even pulsate in tune (i.e. are conjugate). Recent observations with ground-based all-sky TV-cameras confirm this conjugacy, but also show some non-conjugate auroras: (i) pulsating auroras in both hemispheres with different spatial appearance and period, and (ii) pulsating auroras in one hemisphere only.

SCAR organized with the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) the first International Polar Year science conference, which took place in St Petersburg, Russia, in July, and attracted 1150 attendees. SCAR’s legal status changed during the year; it is now a Company Limited by Guarantee, and a UK Charity, while still an Interdisciplinary Body of the International Council for Science (ICSU). Three SCAR Medals and Four SCAR Fellowships were awarded. SCAR continues to provide high quality independent scientific advice to the Antarctic Treaty Parties.

ATCM - Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
CEP - Committee for Environmental Protection
32th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
06 Apr 2009 - 17 Apr 2009