Climate processes

Ice floats on below the surface.
Underwater shot of ice (Photo: Benjamin Wallis)
Sun halo over an iceberg near Colbeck field hut

Antarctica and its surrounding ocean are dominated and shaped by the presence of snow and ice which, while themselves controlled by the climatic regime and very sensitive to climate change, also influence and provide major feedbacks to the global climate system.

Many globally significant processes are driven by the unique climate and geography of the Antarctic region. These include the uptake of carbon dioxide by the Southern Ocean; the overturning circulation of the deep ocean; the balance between water storage and discharge in the main continental ice-sheet; changes in surface energy, mass and momentum exchange by ice masses; and energy transfer between all levels of the atmosphere to space. Understanding these processes is vital for understanding and predicting climate and environmental changes and their impacts. These impacts include future greenhouse gas levels, sea-level rise, the variability and rate of change of climate, and changes in atmospheric composition. The latter includes the stratospheric 'ozone hole', which affects life in Southern Hemisphere nations.

Australia has had a long and distinguished record of research into Antarctica's natural phenomena, including early fundamental studies into the nature of the ice sheet, ice shelves and sea ice.

As the world's attention focuses on changing climates in the 21st century that legacy of fundamental work, together with a large suite of interdisciplinary studies embracing the ocean around Antarctica, its biota, and the atmosphere above is of immense value in underpinning to a comprehensive understanding of contemporary change and its environmental consequences.