Experts in Queenstown to discuss Antarctica's future

An Emperor penguin under the frozen sea ice at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Photo / Mark Mitchell
An Emperor penguin under the frozen sea ice at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The dynamics of ice sheets and how the impact of an increasing human population will affect the world's least populated continent have been debated at a three-day summit on Antarctica's future.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Horizon Scan in Queenstown began with more than 800 questions submitted by scientists from throughout the world.

Eighty leading Antarctic scientists, policy makers, environmental leaders and visionaries then identified 80 key questions confronting Antarctic research in the next 20 years.

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Topics which attracted the most interest included the relationship between the dynamics of Antarctic ice sheets and how they delivered water to the ocean - contributing to a rising sea level globally.

Concerns were also raised around the management of Antarctica and how a significantly increasing human population might change the once pristine wilderness.

Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) past president Mahlon Kennicutt said Antarctica's leading thinkers were now far better positioned to appropriately direct resources towards understanding and protecting Antarctica over the next two decades.

Many questions were raised relating to future environmental changes that might be expected to deeply effect Antarctic marine and terrestrial ecosystems - including threats to biodiversity - as the planet warmed, Mr Kennicutt said.

Antarctica was a special place for astronomy and astrophysics which allowed scientists to address basic issues about how the universe was formed and where life might be found beyond our solar system, he said.

As the fifth largest continent, the dynamic earth under the ice remained largely a mystery but held clues about the evolution of our planet and how the balance of ice and water had fluctuated over millennia.

"These themes represent the wide range of challenges facing scientists, policy makers and governments in the future," Mr Kennicutt said.

"Antarctica is the keystone to the global ocean and climate systems and it is also the most vulnerable part of those systems.

The summit was the first of at least eight major events New Zealand would host this year significant to the future thinking, science, policy and management of Antarctica.

Others include SCAR's biennial Open Science Conference, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Program's symposium and New Zealand IceFest.

- APNZ

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