Antarctic climate research through the Australian Antarctic Science Program investigates the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the global climate system, building on more than 50 years of climate research in Antarctica.

The main focus of the research is to address uncertainties identified in the Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report highlighted the lack of climate data from the Southern Ocean, the sea ice zone and Antarctica in general. It also noted a need for greater understanding of the role the region may have in slowing the rate of climate change and of the future behaviour of the ice sheet and its contribution to sea level rise.

Our Antarctic climate research contributes to the IPCC’s update on the state of climate change through the Fifth Assessment Report in 2013–14 and to other assessments that may follow. It also feeds into Australia’s national priority areas for action, to manage climate change impacts and develop adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.

The research is conducted the following key areas:

Research questions to be investigated include:

  • What are the processes controlling ice loss from the ice sheet in both East and West Antarctica, and how will these influence future sea level rise?
  • Is the ‘global overturning circulation’ (circulation of the world’s oceans) likely to change with future warming, and what impact will this have?
  • How much heat and carbon will the Southern Ocean be able to take up and store in the future?
  • Is the development of better climate system models inhibited by poor understanding of certain high latitude (polar) atmospheric processes?
  • What can the record of past climates tell us about current and future climate change?
  • What are the ecological responses of Southern Ocean ecosystems to the impacts of global change?

Read more about Antarctic climate research in the Science Strategic Plan.