The role of Antarctica in the earth’s life support system will be the focus of leading scientists when they meet in Hobart this week for a major international conference for the Antarctic scientific research and logistic support communities.

More than 850 Antarctic scientists, and the logistical and operational technicians that support them, will take part in the 2006 Open Science Conference of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and at meetings held by the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes (COMNAP).

The Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said as the effects of climate change become more evident, particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula, there is an urgency to better understand Antarctica’s role in the global climate system.

“The rate at which the climate of the Antarctic Peninsula region of Antarctic is changing is among the greatest in the world, with collapsing ice shelves, waters warming and glaciers retreating at alarming rates,” Senator Campbell said.

“Australia’s own research on Heard Island reveals that significant environmental changes have occurred during a human lifetime.”

“Antarctica is no longer a place where only adventurers and explorers go. The efforts of the world’s scientists over the past several decades have shown that Antarctica has a significant role in maintaining the earth’s climate and ecological integrity.”

“We know now the intense cold of Antarctica is a major driver of the global ocean circulation, which brings warm waters to the shores of western Europe, and nourishes fisheries around the globe,” he said.

Research has shown that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean have a major influence on the climate and ecology in more northerly latitudes, and Antarctica holds many of the keys to our understanding of future change.

Senator Campbell said we need to better understand what has happened to past climates, sea levels and biodiversity as a signpost to possible future changes.

He said Australia had a lead role in Antarctic science, demonstrated by more than 850 Antarctic scientists and technicians from around the world gathering in Hobart for this important series of meetings.

“The Australian Government believes international collaboration and cooperation is the best way to understand Antarctica’s role in our Earth’s integrity and protect its environment, so I am delighted to welcome so many leading scientific and logistic experts to Hobart,” Senator Campbell said.

The SCAR Open Science Conference is being held in Hobart from 12–14 July 2006.