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Overview of GSAC

Life and its environment on Earth form a tightly coupled system. Understanding the way this system functions is a formidable scientific challenge. Given the growing effects on the planet of human activities, it is also an urgent priority. The Antarctic is a pivotal component of the Earth system.

Antarctica’s ice, rocks and living material contain a treasure trove of information on Earth’s history and the evolution of life. Although geographically remote, it affects the whole planet through its influence on the climate system and sea level.

Recognising this, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has committed itself to become, by 2012, the leading international centre making use of the exceptional importance of the Antarctic and the surrounding Southern Ocean to achieve new insights into key global phenomena and scientific fundamentals.

The BAS five-year research programme Global Science in the Antarctic Context (GSAC) is the main way of fulfilling this vision. It consists of an integrated set of inter-disciplinary research, monitoring and survey activities designed to extract from the Antarctic new knowledge to inform policy and benefit society. GSAC addresses priorities determined through internal debate and widespread national and international consultation with scientific experts, scientific organisations, government departments, non-governmental organisations and the public. The programme supports the Natural Environment Research Council’s strategy Science for a Sustainable Future, and will make significant contributions to the activities of internationally coordinated research programmes such as the World Climate Research Programme, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research, and the International Polar Year 2007–2008.

GSAC comprises eight programmes totalling 19 projects. Its components are highly interconnected so that the sum will be greater than the parts. The content makes full use of the BAS Antarctic infrastructure and builds on the successes of previous BAS research, survey and monitoring while shifting our focus to exciting new areas. The quality of the programme’s content was assured through competition and by independent, rigorous, international peer review. Carrying it out involves over 120 national and international collaborations. As opportunities arise, new scientific and technical knowledge will be transferred to the private sector for the commercial benefit of the UK. Getting the public interested and engaging them in discourse will be a major priority.

GSAC spans timescales from about 30 million years in the past to 300 years in the future, and spatial scales from the microbial to the interplanetary. It is ambitious in its scope and aims to be unrivalled in its results.