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Polar Science Research

Why we study the Polar Regions

The Polar Regions are pivotal components of the Earth System. Ice, rocks and living material contain a wealth of information on the Earth’s history and the evolution of life. Although geographically remote, their influence on the climate system and sea level affects the whole planet. They provide a unique natural laboratory for the study of global processes, including climate change and ecosystem response to change (e.g. evolution and biodiversity). A major driver of the global ocean system, they are also fundamental to predicting the world's climate.

The latest science has linked human activity to the retreat of glaciers and the collapse of ice shelves in the northern Antarctic Peninsula. In West Antarctica, the ice sheet is thinning rapidly around the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

It is essential to continue to study and monitor the Polar Regions, two of the most rapidly warming regions on the planet. We need to understand the impact of polar ice melt on ocean circulations and sea level.

Polar science research areas


The ozone hole formed in less than a decade, demonstrating how rapidly the Earth’s atmosphere can respond to activities by humans. The combination of the effects of increasing carbon dioxide and reduced ozone levels are impacting the climate system. The ozone hole is expected to recover by about 2060 but continual monitoring of both ozone and carbon dioxide is critical to accurate projections of future climate.


In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified the rate of glacier and ice-sheet melting as the largest uncertainty of future sea-level predictions. Sea ice is of enormous importance climatically because it reflects most of the solar radiation that falls on it and acts to reduce the transfer of heat and moisture between the ocean and the atmosphere. Continued long-term monitoring both of the ice caps and sea ice is essential for predicting future climate change.


The Southern Ocean, especially the deep ocean, is the least-known part of our planet. A major oceanic sink of CO2, the Southern Ocean is now becoming less effective. The surface waters around parts of Antarctica are already warming. An equally serious threat to marine life is increasing ocean acidification. International effort is required to monitor the spatial and temporal variations of the physical, chemical and biological changes in the southern ocean


Human activities such as sealing, whaling and fishing have had major impacts on the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Climate change now poses a new threat, causing changes to the number and distribution of many species. It is important to develop a set of internationally-agreed biodiversity indicators for the marine and terrestrial environments.

Human impact

Sustainable use of the southern ocean and maintenance of the highest standards of environmental management must be key objectives of the Antarctic Treaty System for the next 50 years. Both polar regions are vulnerable to local environmental input by human activities. The Committee for Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (CEP) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) have critical roles to play in ensuring that Antarctica remains a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.