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Analysis and Comment (53)

It may already be too late to stop Antarctic ice sliding into the ocean. It may already be too late to stop Antarctic ice sliding into the ocean. EPA

Why ice sheets will keep melting for centuries to come

Ice sheets respond slowly to changes in climate, because they are so massive that they themselves dominate the climate conditions over and around them. But once they start flowing faster towards the shore…
Japan’s whaling program was defeated in The Hague, but that might not stop more whales being taken in the future. Japan’s whaling program was defeated in The Hague, but that might not stop more whales being taken in the future. EPA/Tim Watters/Sea Shepherd Australia/AAP

Japan could resume whaling – this time with The Hague’s blessing

Japan is reportedly set to release plans to resume killing whales in the Southern Ocean in the 2015-16 season. It seems like a defiant move, coming just six months after the International Court of Justice…
Keep digging. There is life in subglacial lakes. Keep digging. There is life in subglacial lakes.

First direct evidence of microbial life under 1km of Antarctic ice

Life is hardier than was thought only a few decades ago. With the help of new exploration technologies and new methods for finding and identifying organisms, our perceptions of what constitute the environmental…
Expanding protected areas to safeguard the unique biodiversity, such as these emperor penguins, is just part of the Australian research role in Antarctica. Expanding protected areas to safeguard the unique biodiversity, such as these emperor penguins, is just part of the Australian research role in Antarctica. Australian Antarctic Division

Private funding could help Australia’s role in the Antarctic

The Australian government’s blueprint for the Antarctic is due out soon. Given the recent cuts in public funding for science, what hope is there for any extra monies for the polar region. And what should…
Lead from Broken Hill leads to pollution abroad. Lead from Broken Hill leads to pollution abroad. NSW Records Office

Lead pollution beat Amundsen and Scott to the South Pole by 20 years

We know elements of the story. It was 1911, as Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen raced to the South Pole. Temperatures were below -50˚C. Scott was British; Amundsen a Norwegian. Sled dogs were dying, and…
Ice cores reveal that Antarctica was polluted long before Scott and Amundsen set foot there. Ice cores reveal that Antarctica was polluted long before Scott and Amundsen set foot there. Andrew Mandemaker/Wikimedia Commons

Our pollution reached Antarctica long before the great explorers

Lead pollution from Australia reached Antarctica in 1889 – long before the frozen continent’s golden age of exploration – and has remained there ever since, new research shows. In our study, published…
Melt pond on the Greenland ice sheet. Melt pond on the Greenland ice sheet. NASA / Michael Studinger

What climate tipping points should we be looking out for?

The concept of a “tipping point” – a threshold beyond which a system shifts to a new state – is becoming a familiar one in discussions of the climate. Examples of tipping points are everywhere: a glass…
Antarctica is still a frontier - but it is rapidly changing. Antarctica is still a frontier - but it is rapidly changing. Eugene Kaspersky/Flickr

In Conversation: what does the future hold for Antarctica?

Antarctica is a continent less suited to human habitation than any other. Temperatures rise above freezing only briefly on the northern Antarctic peninsula. At the coast mean temperatures range between…
Tony Press, John Keane, and Chris Turney. Tony Press, John Keane, and Chris Turney. Giovanni Navarria

In Conversation on Antarctic sovereignty: full discussion

Antarctica is a continent less suited to human habitation than any other. Temperatures rise above freezing only briefly on the northern Antarctic peninsula. At the coast mean temperatures range between…
Mount Erebus is Antarctica’s obvious volcano, but there is more below the ice. Mount Erebus is Antarctica’s obvious volcano, but there is more below the ice. Josh Landis/USAP

Volcanic rift valley under Antarctica hotter than expected

The Thwaites glacier is one of the most rapidly changing in Antarctica. It’s been the focus of considerable attention in recent weeks, after scientists suggested that this sector of the huge West Antarctic…
The Ross Sea: one of the places where sea ice extent is increasing. The Ross Sea: one of the places where sea ice extent is increasing. Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons

What is the paradox of increasing Antarctic sea ice really telling us?

This year could well see a new record set for the extent of Antarctic sea ice – hot on the heels of last year’s record, which in turn is part of a puzzling 33-year trend in increasing sea ice around Antarctica…
The Thwaites Glacier is among several in West Antarctica that is already retreating. The Thwaites Glacier is among several in West Antarctica that is already retreating. NASA

We can now only watch as West Antarctica’s ice sheets collapse

Antarctic climate science is having a moment – a worrying moment. Three new studies have all concluded that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun to collapse. This collapse will impact humanity for generations…
Going, going, gone: Antartica’s Larssen ice shelf. Going, going, gone: Antartica’s Larssen ice shelf. MODIS/NASA

Melting glaciers deform the Earth’s mantle and crust

The significant retreat of elements of the West Antarctic ice sheet such as the Thwaites glacier recently reported in the journal Science suggests a possible sea level rise of 3 to 3.7m. This is a huge…
Antarctic tourism numbers are modest, but some nations seem to be eyeing up the continent’s industrial potential. Antarctic tourism numbers are modest, but some nations seem to be eyeing up the continent’s industrial potential. Supplied

Is there about to be a dash for Antarctica’s resources?

Few places have captured the human imagination like Antarctica. It is colder than anywhere on Earth, bounded by rough seas, buffeted by intense winds, home to fauna that are found nowhere else and, as…
Volcanoes can help life survive in the cold. Volcanoes can help life survive in the cold. Flickr/august allen

Antarctic volcanoes help preserve life in the freezer

Antarctica was once covered in lush, subtropical forests, inhabited by diverse plants and animals including large dinosaurs. That’s going back many millions of years. These days, Antarctica is 99.7% covered…
On board the wonderful Australian icebreaker Aurora australis. On board the wonderful Australian icebreaker Aurora australis. Intrepid Science

Scientists at work: stuck in the Antarctic ice we set out to study

Antarctica is a desolate place. That much we know, but nothing prepares you for it until you actually get there. It’s cold, windy and lonely. Everything about it is the exact opposite of my normal summer…
The very opposite of two weeks in Benidorm. The very opposite of two weeks in Benidorm. Liam Quinn

We can all learn from Antarctica (when not stuck in the ice)

The drama and somewhat unintentional humour of first one and eventually three ships getting caught in heavy sea ice in the Southern Ocean has been closely followed since before Christmas. The images of…
UNSW engineer Nic Bingham at a refueling stop half way between South Pole and Ridge A, January 2013. UNSW engineer Nic Bingham at a refueling stop half way between South Pole and Ridge A, January 2013. Geoff Sims

Building a telescope in the coldest place on Earth

Russia’s Vostok station in Antarctica must be one of the scariest places on Earth. Temperatures regularly drop below -80C, and there is no way in or out for nine months of the year. The inhabitants become…
Tractors and quad bikes – seen here at Australia’s Mawson Station – are only two of many forms of transport used in Antarctica. Tractors and quad bikes – seen here at Australia’s Mawson Station – are only two of many forms of transport used in Antarctica. Chris Wilson/Australian Antarctic Division

Why the ‘infrastructure PM’ can’t give Antarctica the cold shoulder

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently declared that he wanted to be known as the “infrastructure prime minister”. But what of Australia’s iciest infrastructure – that located in Antarctica? A 20-year strategic…
New research suggests penguins evolved with the Antarctic. New research suggests penguins evolved with the Antarctic. Flickr/Martha de Jong Lantink

Was penguin evolution driven by a cooling Antarctic?

Penguins are a remarkable group of flightless birds. We tend to think of them as Antarctic birds, but they actually inhabit an extremely diverse range of habitats from subzero Antarctic coastline to the…
The dark waters under Antarctic ice are home to many unique species. The dark waters under Antarctic ice are home to many unique species. Graeme Clark

Melting ice leaves polar ecosystems out in the sun

It is no secret that climate change is transforming the polar regions. Retreating glaciers, melting ice-caps and changing sea ice patterns are frequently reported in both the Arctic and Antarctic, and…
This winter there was more sea ice than ever in Antarctica. This winter there was more sea ice than ever in Antarctica. Flickr/august allen

Why is Antarctic sea ice growing?

Recently NASA reported that this year’s maximum wintertime extent of Antarctic sea ice was the largest on record, even greater than the previous year’s record. This is understandably at odds with the public’s…
Even with water temperatures down to -20°C, Deep Lake is home to a surprising amount of life (and not just our research camp). Even with water temperatures down to -20°C, Deep Lake is home to a surprising amount of life (and not just our research camp). Rick Cavicchioli

Sub-zero heroes: extremophiles call salty Antarctic lakes home

Imagine a lake so salty its water exists in a liquid state at -20 °C – then picture something thriving in that seemingly lethal environment. Such an organism exists; several of them, in fact. In a paper…
Melting ice, growing ice, and shifting acidity: what the future holds for the great white south. Melting ice, growing ice, and shifting acidity: what the future holds for the great white south. AAP Image/Dean Lewins

IPCC: where to for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean?

The general thrust of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report - released on Friday – can be summarised as: “there is now more evidence that climate change is occurring". Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are…
Lack of funding is just the tip of the iceberg for Australian Antarctic research. Lack of funding is just the tip of the iceberg for Australian Antarctic research. AAP/Australian Antarctic Division

Australian Antarctic science is being frozen out by budget cuts

A hundred years after Australian explorer and geologist Douglas Mawson returned from his epic scientific adventures in Antarctica, Australia’s scientific exploration of the icy southern continent has all…
Russia has turned its back on marine protected areas in Antarctica. Where to now? Russia has turned its back on marine protected areas in Antarctica. Where to now? Flickr/US Embassy New Zealand

Antarctic marine reserves: how many ways can you say “Nyet”?

Russia blocked the approval of new marine protected areas in the Antarctic this week, demanding more scientific information and a definition of marine protected areas. The surprise move postpones a joint…
Antarctica’s ice is melting in different ways in different places: what’s the connection? Antarctica’s ice is melting in different ways in different places: what’s the connection? AAP Image/British Antarctic Survey

Explainer: what is happening to Antarctica’s ice?

Two papers released last week in the journal Nature Geoscience provide evidence that warming and melt in West Antarctica are occurring at levels that are highly unusual compared to natural variability…
Antarctica’s delicate marine ecosystems are under threat from climate change and ocean acidification. Antarctica’s delicate marine ecosystems are under threat from climate change and ocean acidification. wikimedia/Steve Clabuesch

Warning bells: what Antarctica can teach us about ocean acidification

When it comes to climate change, temperature is only part of the story. Climate gases released by human activity are dissolving into the oceans, and the increased levels of CO₂ are making the waters more…
Will the remote continent be spared the devastating impacts of human activity? Will the remote continent be spared the devastating impacts of human activity? Flickr/v1ctor.

Final frontiers: Antarctica

With the global population now well over seven billion there are few remaining parts of the world relatively untouched by human activity. We assess the current state and future prospects of five final…
We can learn a lot about the conditions life can endure by looking under the ice of Antarctica. We can learn a lot about the conditions life can endure by looking under the ice of Antarctica. Eugene Kaspersky

A life less ordinary: looking under the surface of Lake Vida

The search for life in extreme environments is an exploration not only of the robustness of earthly life, but also of our origins. And perhaps the biggest question here is whether the earth is a unique…
Failing to reach a decision on protecting Antarctic waters doesn’t mean the process is over. Failing to reach a decision on protecting Antarctic waters doesn’t mean the process is over. Dean Lewins/AAP

Don’t write off Antarctic marine protected areas

The annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) wound up in Hobart on Thursday last week without declaring a system of marine protected areas (MPAs…
By studying ice cores, researchers can measure the methane emissions from thousands of years earlier. By studying ice cores, researchers can measure the methane emissions from thousands of years earlier. Arabani/Flickr

Humans did affect the atmosphere - even before industrialisation

The past is the key to the future. When snow falls on polar ice sheets, in Greenland and Antarctica for example, air is trapped between the snowflakes. Year after year, the snow compacts under its own…
Sea levels are rising globally at record-breaking rates and Antarctica is playing an increasing role. Sea levels are rising globally at record-breaking rates and Antarctica is playing an increasing role. Matt King

Weigh-in reveals Antarctica’s losing 190 million tonnes a day

A small slice of Antarctica turns up along your coastline each year. We’re all glad it’s just a small slice, given Antarctica could deliver a total sea-level rise of 59 metres. That’s not going to happen…
Competing proposals for the Ross Sea could give CCAMLR an excuse to shelve protected areas. Competing proposals for the Ross Sea could give CCAMLR an excuse to shelve protected areas. Jacques Descloitres/NASA

Conserving Antarctica: which protected area will it be?

This week delegates from around the globe are gathered in Hobart for the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, pronounced “camel-ar” to those…
For more than three decades Antarctica has experienced the most severe depletion of stratospheric ozone. For more than three decades Antarctica has experienced the most severe depletion of stratospheric ozone. NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Explainer: what is the Antarctic ozone hole and how is it made?

SAVING THE OZONE: Part two in our series exploring on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – dubbed “the world’s most successful environmental agreement”. Yesterday’s article…
The push for World Heritage has noble aims, but when an area is already so well protected, why re-open debate? The push for World Heritage has noble aims, but when an area is already so well protected, why re-open debate? AAP

An own goal in political ice hockey? World Heritage listing for Antarctica could reopen minerals debate

Long-time environmental campaigner Geoff Mosley and former leader of the Greens Bob Brown will host a forum in Hobart on 17 June to discuss their proposal to seek World Heritage listing for Antarctica…
Australia’s newly declared continental shelf may be as big as its land mass, but its not a stealth attack on Antarctica. Australia’s newly declared continental shelf may be as big as its land mass, but its not a stealth attack on Antarctica. AAP

Explainer: Australia’s extended continental shelf and Antarctica

Despite recent commentary in the media, Australia’s proclamation of its extended continental shelf does not represent new “claims” in Antarctica and does not contravene the Antarctic Treaty. With Australia…
All good things must come to an end. All good things must come to an end. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: the final instalment

Professor Michael Ashley recently returned from Antarctica where he deployed a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, 850km from the South Pole. This is the…
You probably wouldn’t try to drive across Antarctica in a regular Hilux. You probably wouldn’t try to drive across Antarctica in a regular Hilux. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week six

Professor Michael Ashley recently returned from Antarctica where he was deploying a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, 850km from the South Pole. This is…
Drilling could provide insights on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Drilling could provide insights on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Shandchem

Life in Lake Vostok? The link between Antarctica and extra-terrestrials

Late last week the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) announced they had successfully drilled into the elusive sub-glacial Lake Vostok, a body of water lying under nearly 4km of Antarctic…
It’s hard to ignore Antarctica’s natural beauty, especially when ice halos come out to play. It’s hard to ignore Antarctica’s natural beauty, especially when ice halos come out to play. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week five

Professor Michael Ashley is currently in Antarctica to deploy a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, some 850km from the South Pole. This is the fifth instalment…
Why walk around the South Pole when you can ride? Why walk around the South Pole when you can ride? Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week four

Professor Michael Ashley is currently in Antarctica to deploy a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, some 850km from the South Pole. This is the fourth instalment…
As far as workplaces go, you could do worse than the South Pole. As far as workplaces go, you could do worse than the South Pole. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week three

Professor Michael Ashley is currently in Antarctica to deploy a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, some 850km from the South Pole. This is the third instalment…
When you’re trying to fly to the South Pole, weather-related delays are a frustrating reality. When you’re trying to fly to the South Pole, weather-related delays are a frustrating reality. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week two

Professor Michael Ashley is currently in Antarctica to deploy a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, some 850km from the South Pole. This is the second instalment…
When you plan a six-week trip to Antarctica, the fun starts before you even arrive. When you plan a six-week trip to Antarctica, the fun starts before you even arrive. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week one

We live in a privileged time, when travel around the world is easy and cheap. It’s commonplace for Australians to see Times Square in New York, the Great Wall in China, or trek in Nepal. But one continent…
4,000 scientists and dodgy internet – what can possibly be done? 4,000 scientists and dodgy internet – what can possibly be done? Todor Lolovski/Australian Antarctic Division

Connecting Antarctica – a broadband revolution for the Great White Continent

The information revolution is hurtling towards Antarctica in the shape of a 20 centimetre cube weighing less than 10 kilograms. It can’t come soon enough. Not because Antarctic scientists (numbering more…
Competing interest make Antartica’s future uncertain. Competing interest make Antartica’s future uncertain. Martha de Jong Lantink

Antarctic visions: what is the future of Australia’s forgotten territory?

When does “national interest” equal “national sovereignty”? Apparently when Australia looks south. That position seems to be emerging from think tanks and senior government officials in the stop/start…
Australia needs a new ice-breaking ship for Antarctic research. Australia needs a new ice-breaking ship for Antarctic research. AAP

From the ocean to the stars: Australia’s stake in Antarctic research

The recently-released Lowy Institute report, Antarctica: Assessing and Protecting Australia’s National Interests is both timely and likely to stimulate much discussion about Australia’s future presence…
Budgetary constraints and climate change are putting the Antarctic in peril. Budgetary constraints and climate change are putting the Antarctic in peril. AAP

Poles apart: Australia’s policy and responsibilities in Antarctica

Does Australia have strategic interests in Antarctica? Do we really think of the region as the “common heritage of mankind”? The Antarctic Treaty states that it is “in the interest of all mankind that…
The Antarctic Treaty protects the continent from competing interests. The Antarctic Treaty protects the continent from competing interests. AAP

Explainer: Keeping conflict on ice with the Antarctic Treaty

This year marks the 50th year of the Antarctic Treaty, a visionary document that for the first time set out a vision for an entire continent based on peace, science and co-operation. So how does it hold…
Changes to Antarctica don’t just affect those who live there. Changes to Antarctica don’t just affect those who live there. AAP

Antarctica: harbinger of global change

Changes in the Antarctic go well beyond the immediate region. They affect the whole planet. Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and the feedbacks between the ice, oceans and atmosphere play a crucial role…

Research and News (6)

Research Briefs (15)

Antarctic sea ice bucks trend

Sea ice is expanding in the seas around Antarctica. Unlike in the Arctic, where sea ice has suffered a drastic decline in…

Tsunami breaks off icebergs

For the first time scientists have observed the power of a tsunami to break off large icebergs in Antarctica. The tsunami…