A new open access article published in the journal Antarctic Science highlights the 80 most important questions in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Science that need to be answered in the next decade and beyond.  One of the authors of the study Dr Mahlon C. Kennicutt from Texas A&M University discusses the key questions below.

“It is indeed a rare opportunity in these days of over-commitment and running from one proposal deadline to the next, to pause and contemplate – what are the most important questions facing scientists in the coming years? However, this is just what the Antarctic community did for four days in April of 2014. Seventy-five attendees gathered at a remote location in Queenstown, New Zealand far from the disruptions of everyday life, to come to agreement; through structured debate, discussion and, yes, even voting (!); on the 80 most important, compelling and high-impact scientific questions that need to be answered in the next two decades and beyond by Antarctic and Southern Ocean science.

This first-ever gathering of its kind was preceded by nearly two-years of planning and broad and inclusive consultation with the diverse, international community of scientists that conduct research in the southern Polar Regions. From nearly a 1000 ideas, the usual suspects emerged of climate change, sea level rise, ice sheet mass balance, loss of biodiversity, and the role of the Antarctic in the Earth system. However, there were other questions regarding ecosystem services, the genetic basis for adaptation and resilience, refugia during past glaciations, the role of volcanism in a warmer Antarctica, uncharacterized Green-House Gas reservoirs’ stability, the viability and reach of temperate diseases and pathogens, the search for the beginnings of the Universe and life, and will current governance and protection regimes protect our planet’s last great wilderness?  Couplings, feedbacks, thresholds, and tipping points across the Antarctic system and elsewhere remain mostly unknown.


SCAR Group Picture large
SCAR Group Picture, image curtesy of Dr Kennicutt

This vision of the future is intended to catalyze an overdue discussion of what is most important in a world of limited resources and do we have the will to make the commitments to resources and partnerships critical to realizing the potential of Antarctic and Southern Ocean science in the 21st Century.  While many take for granted the importance and urgency of the science they practice, it is policy-makers, national funding agencies and the public that chooses and funds science that needs to be convinced. A clear, thoughtful and well-reasoned road-map to the future is just the first step in communicating the significance and relevance of what we do to the most pressing issues facing society today.”

Click here to read the paper in full

Useful links:

Polar research: Six priorities for Antarctic science

Horizon Scan

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