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Discovering the untold in Antarctica

Media Statement

18 October 2016 – for immediate release

Discovering the untold in Antarctica

New Zealand’s Antarctic Research Programme is officially underway for the 2016-17 season with the first of our science project teams beginning their work on ice this week.

The Antarctic continent has been preserved as a place for peace and scientific research under the Antarctic Treaty for more than 50 years, however because of its remoteness, its role in the climate system is relatively unknown.

What we do know, is Antarctica’s reach is global. Small changes in its ice sheets have implications to all coastlines around the world.

This season scientists will be working to figure out how resilient Antarctic life is to a changing environment. Gaining knowledge about a range of ecosystems in the sea, on land and in freshwater environments that will help future management and monitoring decisions. We will support work at Bratina Island, and the McMurdo Dry Valleys at Lakes Brownworth and Lake Vanda.

We are assisting scientists to use an airborne electromagnetic device (the EMBird) slung below a DC3 aircraft, to measure snow and sea ice thickness in the Western Ross Sea. This will help scientists to understand how cold water produced under the ice shelf influences coastal sea ice.

In the Friis Hills deep within the Transantarctic Mountains, scientists will drill frozen sediments that were originally deposited by glaciers. The geological records contained in the sediment cores will provide insight into possible future response of Antarctica’s ice sheets and glaciers to current climate change.

Scientists will lead research into top predators, oceanography, coastal ecology, climate and soils all in the name of understanding the past, and using this information to better predict what our future world might look like. Penguins, volcanos and ice crystals are key features of the world-class science supported by Scott Base and the 100 scientists working with us in Antarctica this year.
Antarctica New Zealand is committed to a number of long-term monitoring programmes that enable changes in the atmospheric, physical and biological environments to be determined and assessed. Several of these programmes began in the early and mid-19th century, resulting in extremely valuable and unique long-term records.

“As a maritime nation New Zealand is directly affected by changing sea levels, changing ocean temperatures, changing climates, and changing marine ecosystems and fisheries. The Ross Ice Shelf, the largest piece of floating ice on the planet (the size of France), is on the doorstep of Scott Base, in New Zealand’s backyard. It has retreated and advanced every 40,000 years or so,” says Professor Gary Wilson, Chief Scientific Advisor to Antarctica New Zealand.

To give context, if all the ice in Antarctica was to melt, sea levels could rise by almost 60 metres, said Professor Wilson, flooding around 50% of the world’s capital cities. The social and economic impact of this is catastrophic.

Antarctica New Zealand's role in science is to encourage and facilitate the implementation of science projects that delivers on established themes and priorities; to ensure Antarctic science outcomes are well communicated; and to provide clear pathways for science findings to influence policy at a global level. The open accessibility of scientific knowledge enables us to plan to respond to change.

The 2016-17 Antarctic research season marks 60 years since New Zealand’s Scott Base was established. A number of major outreach events are planned later in the season to celebrate New Zealand’s leadership in Antarctica.

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