Scientists have been researching Antarctica since the days of the first explorers, drawn by the extreme environment, unique species and pristine nature of the continent. In more recent years, the focus has turned to climate change:

  • How will Antarctica be impacted?
  • How will change in Antarctica influence the rest of the planet?

Antarctica is undergoing significant change. Within a generation there will be substantial differences in a part of the planet that comprises more than 10% of the Earth’s surface, supports its biggest ice sheet and is surrounded by the only ocean (Southern Ocean) that connects with every other ocean. It supports some of the planet’s most unique and highly adapted wildlife, which will be directly impacted by change.

Antarctica drives the climate and ocean circulation of the planet. This means that changes in Antarctica will be felt around the world. If Antarctica’s 26.5 million cubic kilometres of ice melted, global sea levels would rise by more than 60 metres! Maintaining Antarctica’s ice is essential to life as we know it on planet Earth.

New Zealand researchers are partnering with international scientists to develop a global understanding of Antarctica’s vulnerability in a changing climate and the influence this will have on the rest of the world. Critical research underway in Antarctica supports our understanding of the past and present and helps us predict and protect the future.

 

New Zealand’s current scientific focus can be grouped into these themes:

Antarctica's past can tell us about our future

By analysing ancient ice and sediments, scientists can predict what our future planet might look like. The race is on to access these records before the opportunity literally melts away. 

Antarctica's biology provides an early warning signal

Antarctic life is sensitive to changes in the environment. By measuring changes in the life history and behaviour of plants, microbes and animals, scientists will detect early warning signs of a changing world.

Antarctica drives the planet’s climate system

The Antarctic is a very important cog in the climate engine: the oceans and atmosphere spins around it, transporting heat around the planet. Changes in ice cover will affect the rest of the planet.

 

Our work spans from measuring fundamental properties of Antarctica’s ice sheets, ice shelves, sea ice, ocean and ecosystems to constructing integrated computational models to project future change.