SCAR makes its mark in Antarctic science

Australia was a founding member of SCAR when it was established in 1958 to advance international scientific activity in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58. Since then Australia has played an active role in the key SCAR activities of initiating, developing and coordinating international scientific research in Antarctica.

In 2004 SCAR defined five new strategic scientific programmes that will provide a research focus in the coming decade. The programmes are also playing a leading role in the research planned for the International Polar Year beginning in March 2007. Australian scientists are involved in all five programmes.

Antarctica and the Global Climate System

This programme investigates the atmospheric and oceanic linkages between the Antarctic climate and global climate. It has four closely linked themes of research investigating Antarctic climate variability over decadal time spans, global and regional climate signals in ice cores, natural and human influences on the Antarctic climate, and the influence of Antarctic climate processes on global climate (Australian Antarctic Magazine 9: 4).

Antarctic Climate Evolution

The Antarctic Climate Evolution programme promotes the exchange of data and ideas between research groups focussing on the evolution of Antarctica’s climate system and ice sheet. Information on climate change and ice thickness variation will come from cores drilled through the ice sheet and through rocks and sediments under the ice, from cores in offshore marine sediments and from changes in the landscape (such as the exposure of past moraines, when ice melts). Data will be used in models to improve our understanding of how climate changed in the past and to better forecast how climate may change in the future.

Evolution and Biodiversity in the Antarctic

Evolution and Biodiversity in the Antarctic: the response of life to change will explore the evolutionary history of selected modern Antarctic biota, how biological diversity in the Antarctic influences ecosystem function, and how the biota will respond to environmental change. The programme will integrate work on marine, terrestrial and freshwater systems and bring together a wide range of disciplines such as plate tectonics, climatology, glaciology, molecular biology, palaeontology and ecology. The programme incorporates the five-year Census of Antarctic Marine Life, being led by the Australian Government Antarctic Division.

Inter-Hemispheric Conjugacy Effects in Solar-Terrestrial and Aeronomy Research

Also known as ICESTAR, this programme investigates the effects of the solar wind and radiation on the structure and dynamics of the upper atmosphere at the poles.

Research focuses on the interaction between the magnetosphere (the Earth’s magnetic field), the ionosphere (the layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that is ionized by solar radiation) and the solar wind. A network of ground-based instruments will be used to study the similarities and differences between these interactions at each pole. The research will help improve predictions of space weather phenomena that adversely affect spacecraft operations, radio communications and satellite-based positioning systems, and provide scientists with new insights into, and ways of studying, the near-Earth space environment.

Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments

More than 150 subglacial lakes have been discovered under the Antarctic ice sheet, the largest being Lake Vostok in the Australian Antarctic Territory, four kilometres below the ice. The Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments programme is coordinating several efforts to drill through the ice sheet into some of these subglacial lakes, which appear to be part of a much larger subglacial hydrological system. The programme will advance understanding of the evolution of subglacial environments and processes, their physical, chemical and biological characteristics and the interconnectivity of subglacial networks.