A new research project launched by the University of Canterbury aims to help the public better understand what goes on in the Antarctic.

The University's Gateway Antarctica unit will spend the next five years studying two of the continent's biggest threats, climate change and human exploitation.

Gateway Antarctica director, Professor Bryan Storey, says the research will be of great value to New Zealanders.

"Any changes around Antarctica will directly impact our climate, and will therefore directly impact our primary production.


Bryan Storey says the project will take place in the Ross Sea and will also look at how over fishing is affecting seal and penguin populations.

Professor Storey says over-fishing in the Southern Ocean could have dire consequences.

"It's a very fine balance between all the different elements of the ecosystem.

"We want to focus on the seals and penguins, and see how the numbers of those are going to change over time."