Antarctica faces major threats in the 21st century: researchers

Jul 12, 2012

The continent of Antarctica is at risk from human activities and other forces, and environmental management is needed to protect the planet's last great wilderness area, says an international team of researchers, including a Texas A&M University oceanographer, in a paper published in the current issue of Science magazine.

Mahlon "Chuck" Kennicutt II, professor of oceanography who has conducted research in the area for more than 25 years, says Antarctica faces growing threats from global warming, loss of sea ice and landed ice, increased tourism, over-fishing in the region, pollution and invasive species creeping into the area. One of the longer-term concerns that may present the greatest threat overall is the potential for oil, gas and mineral exploitation on the continent and in the surrounding ocean, the authors note.

Kennicutt says the Antarctic Treaty System that governs the continent has worked well since it was established in 1962 and that 50 countries currently adhere to the treaty, but it is under pressure today from global climate changes and the ever-present interest in the area's natural resources, from fish to krill to oil to gas to minerals.

"Many people may not realize that Antarctica is a like a 'canary in a coal mine' when it comes to global warming, and Antarctica serves as a sort of thermostat for Earth," he points out. "The polar regions are the most sensitive regions on Earth to global warming, responding rapidly, so what happens in Antarctica in response to this warming affects the entire Earth system in many ways that we barely understand," Kennicutt explains. "Antarctica contains over 90 percent of the fresh water in the world, locked up as solid water in its massive ice sheets. Research that develops fundamental knowledge and understanding of these complex systems conducted in and from Antarctica is critical to understanding many of the challenges facing Earth today."

In addition to conducting research in the area, Kennicutt is also president of the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR), formed in 1958 to coordinate international research in the region.

More than twice the size of the United States, Antarctica has no cities, no government and no permanent residents. All who go to Antarctica are short-time visitors, whether they are scientists, personnel that support scientists or tourists. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest location on Earth and is the only continent with no time zones.

"The Antarctic Treaty has worked well for the past 50 years, but we need to rethink how best to protect the continent from a range of growing of threats," Kennicutt adds.

"The treaty forbids oil or gas development, but it's possible that could be challenged in the years to come. Until now, energy companies have shown little interest in exploring the southern reaches of our planet because of the harsh conditions, the distance to market and the lack of technologies make it a very expensive commercial proposition.

"In the 1960s, most believed that drilling on the North Slope of Alaska was not economical, and in less than 30 years, it became one of the world's major sources of oil. Deep-water drilling today is practiced worldwide and subfloor completion technologies are rapidly advancing, so barriers in the past may soon be overcome increasing the threat to Antarctica in the not-so-distant future."

Another problem – melting ice from several areas of Antarctica – is a very real concern today, Kennicutt adds.

"A report in the news last week shows that sea-level rise on the east coast of the U.S. is occurring much faster than predicted," he notes.

"As the planet warms and the massive ice sheets break apart and melt, sea levels could continue to rise dramatically, not only in the U.S. but around the world. The ice sheets of Antarctica are known as the 'sleeping giants' in the ongoing debates about climate change and sea level rise. Scientists have only rudimentary understanding of how and when these 'giants' will contribute to sea level in the future."

He adds that the first explorers to Antarctica more than 100 years ago would be surprised to see how things have changed in the region.

For instance, it has been proven there are more than 300 sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica, some of them as big as the Great Lakes, and the huge ice sheets in the area flow like rivers to the ocean. He adds that growing tourism in the area and numerous scientific expeditions suggest that the prospect of permanent human settlements is not out of the question.

"All of these concerns pose serious challenges to conservation and protection efforts in Antarctica," Kennicutt notes.

"The bottom line is that we need to make sure that existing agreements and practices that address and respond to these threats are robust enough to last for the next 50 years, and that they truly provide the necessary protection of Antarctica that we all wish for and that we owe to future generations."

Explore further: Big data confirms climate extremes are here to stay

More information: "Challenges to the Future Conservation of the Antarctic," by S.L. Chown, et al., Science, 2012.

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NotParker
2.3 / 5 (18) Jul 12, 2012
"Climate change is increasing the risk of the introduction of non-indigenous species."

Maybe it is the large human presence.

And the millions of gallons of fuel burned to keep people and machinery warm.

"6.8 million pounds of vital supplies ... "

"6.3 million gallons of crucial diesel, gasoline and jet fuel "

http://www.msc.na...ss10.htm
Estevan57
2.5 / 5 (34) Jul 12, 2012
"Climate change is increasing the risk of the introduction of non-indigenous species."
Maybe it is the large human presence.
And the millions of gallons of fuel burned to keep people and machinery warm.
"6.8 million pounds of vital supplies ... "
"6.3 million gallons of crucial diesel, gasoline and jet fuel "
http://www.msc.na...ss10.htm


I'm impressed NotParker, you finally came around to admitting these things make a difference in climate change.
NotParker
2.2 / 5 (17) Jul 12, 2012
"Climate change is increasing the risk of the introduction of non-indigenous species."
Maybe it is the large human presence.
And the millions of gallons of fuel burned to keep people and machinery warm.
"6.8 million pounds of vital supplies ... "
"6.3 million gallons of crucial diesel, gasoline and jet fuel "
http://www.msc.na...ss10.htm


I'm impressed NotParker, you finally came around to admitting these things make a difference in climate change.


Dry areas are always affected by the human presence since humans bring water vapor which holds heat and is a GHG.

Try and imagine the change in moisture caused by burning 6 million gallons of fuel each year.

"For every pound of fuel burned, you get about a pound and a third of water"

Thorium Boy
2.5 / 5 (11) Jul 12, 2012
The one thing you need to remember about AGW scientists, Al Gore, etc; nothing they spout should ever apply to them. Never mind they have "carbon footprints" that dwarf all the poor middle class people they preach at to reduce theirs.
Estevan57
2.5 / 5 (34) Jul 13, 2012
So NotParker your saying the moisture from a world of hydrocarbon burning changes climate, but the Co2 from the same hydrocarbon has no effect? How could this be so?
Try and imagine the change in CO2 caused by burning 6 million gallons of fuel each year.
You don't have to quote me quoting you quoting me.
Estevan57
2.6 / 5 (33) Jul 13, 2012
A gallon of gasoline weighs 6.3 pounds and is comprised of 87% Carbon (C) and 13% Hydrogen (H). When you burn gasoline, a chemical reaction occurs, using Oxygen from the atmosphere. The Hydrogen and the Carbon separate, then recombine with Oxygen from the atmosphere to form H2O, or water, and CO2, or Carbon dioxide.
A CO2 molecule has one carbon atom (atomic weight 12) and two oxygen atoms (atomic weight of 16 each). A carbon atom has a weight of 12, and each oxygen atom has a weight of 16, giving each single molecule of CO2 an atomic weight of 44 (12 from carbon and 32 from oxygen).

Therefore, to calculate the amount of CO2 produced from a gallon of gasoline, the weight of the carbon in the gasoline is multiplied by 44/12 or 3.7.

Since gasoline is about 87% carbon and 13% hydrogen by weight, the carbon in a gallon of gasoline weighs 5.5 pounds (6.3 lbs. x .87).
We can then multiply the weight of the carbon (5.5 pounds) by 3.7, which equals 20 pounds of CO2
Estevan57
2.6 / 5 (33) Jul 13, 2012
A H2O molecule has two Hydrogen atoms (atomic weight 1) and one oxygen atom (atomic weight of 16 each). Each Hydrogen atom has a weight of 1, and the oxygen atom has a weight of 16, giving each single molecule of H20 an atomic weight of 18 (2 from Hydrogen and 16 from oxygen).

Therefore, to calculate the amount of H2O produced from a gallon of gasoline, the weight of the Hydrogen in the gasoline is multiplied by 18/2 or 9.

Since gasoline is about 87% carbon and 13% hydrogen by weight, the Hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline weighs 0.8 pounds (6.3 lbs. x .13). We can then multiply the weight of the Hydrogen (0.8 pounds) by 9, which equals 7 pounds of H2O or water and water vapor.
The combined total weight of the CO2 and the H2O produced by the burning of one gallon of gasoline is 27 pounds. Since we started with one gallon of gas that weighed 6.3 pounds, the amount of Oxygen converted to H2O or CO2 by burning the gasoline is (27-6.3) or 21.7 pounds.
Estevan57
2.6 / 5 (33) Jul 13, 2012
This 21 pounds of breathable Oxygen was removed from the atmosphere by passing through your car's air filter, through the engine, and out the tailpipe as H2O and CO2.

When you multiply that 21 pounds by the United States daily consumption of gasoline (378 million gallons), the result is 7.9 Billion pounds of Oxygen that we are removing from the atmosphere and converting into 7.5 Billion pounds of CO2 and more than 378 Million pounds of water or water vapor each and every day of the year.
But only the water vapor has an effect on the climate? Hmmm?
NotParker
2.3 / 5 (16) Jul 13, 2012
"But only the water vapor has an effect on the climate?"

There is very little of the spectrum where CO2 and H2O do not overlap. There is way more H2O in the atmosphere than CO2.

H2O is responsible for 95% of the greenhouse effect.

If humans add way more H2O into the atmosphere than CO2 then why blame the Co2 for changes in temperature when 95% ore more of the changes were due to H2O?
Estevan57
2.5 / 5 (32) Jul 13, 2012
If both of them are responsible, as you admit, why not blame them both? It is the fact that they are manmade that is the real point.
Preventable with better practices. Even in Antarstica, as you state.
Estevan57
2.3 / 5 (30) Jul 14, 2012
"If humans add way more H2O into the atmosphere than CO2 then why blame the Co2 for changes in temperature when 95% ore more of the changes were due to H2O?" - NotParker

I believe the math works out this way, as I stated below:
"When you multiply that 21 pounds by the United States daily consumption of gasoline (378 million gallons), the result is
7.9 Billion pounds of Oxygen that we are removing from the atmosphere and converting into
7.5 Billion pounds of CO2 and more than
378 Million pounds of water
or water vapor each and every day of the year."

Which one is more significant, 7 Billion pounds, or
378 Million pounds?
Noone reputable really disputes the effect of either factor, but the CO2 has a more proportionate effect on ecosystems and climate than the H2O. There are many other compounds and gases that accompany the burning of hydrocarbons for fuel.
NotParker
2.4 / 5 (14) Jul 14, 2012
"If humans add way more H2O into the atmosphere than CO2 then why blame the Co2 for changes in temperature when 95% ore more of the changes were due to H2O?" - NotParker

I believe the math works out this way, as I stated below:
"When you multiply that 21 pounds by the United States daily consumption of gasoline (378 million gallons), the result is
7.9 Billion pounds of Oxygen that we are removing from the atmosphere and converting into
7.5 Billion pounds of CO2 and more than
378 Million pounds of water
or water vapor each and every day of the year."

Which one is more significant, 7 Billion pounds, or
378 Million pounds?
Noone reputable really disputes the effect of either factor, but the CO2 has a more proportionate effect on ecosystems and climate than the H2O. There are many other compounds and gases that accompany the burning of hydrocarbons for fuel.


The heat and water vapor generated by humans is near all the thermometers.
Estevan57
2.3 / 5 (31) Jul 14, 2012
And so is the CO2, but neither one stays put. The air is in constant motion.
All the thermometers? Not likely, and it doesn't matter anyway.
NotParker
2.7 / 5 (12) Jul 14, 2012
And so is the CO2, but neither one stays put. The air is in constant motion.
All the thermometers? Not likely, and it doesn't matter anyway.


There are very few thermometers without humans near them. It does matter.
Jeddy_Mctedder
2.5 / 5 (11) Jul 16, 2012
antartica is at risk from nothing. it is a giant ice world that man can never conquer in 10,000 years. global warming or not. please, don't worry about what will happen after 10,000 years from now. it's a waste of your time on a practical level. and any policies aimed at changing the distant future are just a fraudulent use of money.

in a first of its kind, 2 men reached the south pole this year by kite-surfing with skis. NO FUEL NO DOGS. this was about as close as we've come to conquering antarctica. you cannot conquer an environment without finding a way to utilize the environment for resources.

mining and gas----yea, the sooner we find giant sources of gas and minerals in antarctica the sooner you can sigh relief that we don't have to destroy the boreal forest of canada for filthy tar sands.