Saturday, 5 April 2014

Of Peace and Science

(Thursday 3rd April) 

This morning we again went south of 60° latitude, and snow is falling thick and fast, covering the deck and filling our heads with Christmassy songs. 'South of 60' is a bit of a big deal. All areas south of this line of latitude are covered by the Antarctic Treaty, a successful international agreement to conserve the region. The Antarctic Treaty was formed in 1961 and designates the continent as a 'natural reserve devoted to peace and science', putting aside any territorial claims.

The Polar Front is where cold Antarctic waters meet warmer northern waters (and where we see lots of exciting physics), and acts as a kind of biological barrier, effectively making south of the Polar Front a closed ecosystem. Over the past 300 years the human activities have had considerable impact on the Southern Ocean. The whaling and sealing industries brought many species, such as the Antarctic fur seal, to the brink of extinction, while more recent commercial fishing threatened to damage the krill population. Krill are a shrimp-like organism that are a key component of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, as the snack of choice for whales, seals and birds. The Treaty was amended in the 1980s to extend protection over the Southern Ocean with the aim of conserving the unique marine environment and life. 

The Treaty also ensures that science is the main activity and the highest priority south of 60. Scientists from twenty seven nations currently work alongside each other on the continent, with the Treaty supporting the free exchange of scientific data and personnel. This is important as conducting science in such a remote and extreme environment is both expensive and logistically challenging. It is very exciting to be working in such an international and multidisciplinary area of science!

Siobhan and Hugh enjoying the southern weather 

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