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200 years of research of Antarctica
Material posted: Publication date: 28-04-2020

Antarctica is a centre for scientific discovery, environmental studies and international diplomacy. The mainland was officially opened 200 years ago, in January 1820, when members of the Russian expedition under the command of Mikhail Lazarev and Faddey Bellingshausen landed on the ground in the place which is now known as Fimbulisen the ice shelf on the Eastern side of the continent.

The first explorers were attracted there by the myths of Terra Australis , a vast southern continent, which scientists have for centuries imagined as a counterweight to the Northern hemisphere. Others sought the economic benefits of hunting whales and seals or glory from the conquest of the last wildlife of the planet. Others wanted to understand the Earth's magnetic field to better navigate the seas.

Antarctica separated from South America 35 million years ago, subsequently, its climate has undergone significant changes. The surface of the continent was covered with ice shields [1] – the ice covering thousands of square kilometers. As soon as the plate tectonics shifted to other continents, the climate of Antarctica became colder and drier. During the last 14 million years, this was the coldest continent what it is today. Basically, Antarctica is covered by ice shields on land and fringed by floating ice shelves.

Antarctica is the only continent that was literally open because it has no indigenous human population. The British Explorer sir James cook sailed around the world around the continent in 1772-1775 years, but saw only some distant island.

Cook told the world that the Antarctic waters are rich in wildlife. This attracted hunters of seals and whalers, mainly from England and the United States, which destroyed the seals and sea elephants in the region to almost complete extinction [2].

Currently, the total volume of East and West Antarctic ice sheet contains 90% of the world's ice. This volume is enough to raise Global sea level by about 60 meters if all the ice melts [3]. Antarctica is the coldest, the highest, the driest, windiest, brightest and most ice continent on Earth. 200 years of research has shown that Antarctica is a key component of the climate system of the Earth.

Today, thanks to numerous researches it is known that the ice cap of East Antarctica is indeed gradually thins and thickens over millions of years. Also, studies show that the ice mass in descending order and growth move in the same patterns every time.

Although the level of ice in East Antarctica, increases and decreases slowly, it is so great that is the main driver of sea-level rise [4]. Understanding how the changing ice extent in the past, is key to predicting how quickly it will melt in the coming years.

This question is particularly important for West Antarctica where the bottom of the ice sheet is below sea level, making it very susceptible to changes in sea level and ocean temperature. By itself, the West Antarctic ice sheet has the potential to raise sea level 5 meters, in case of its destruction.

To the extent that, as climate change increases the level of the World ocean, such parts of the ice sheet of West Antarctica, as glaciers, Thwaites and pine island, are particularly vulnerable. At the end of the last glacial period in the Western part of Antarctica had become thin at an average of 0.5-1 meter per year. Today with the help of GPS, satellite and aerial measurements, scientists see parts of West Antarctica decreasing from 1 to 6 meters per year [5].

Antarctica is losing ice at an accelerated rate in part due to climate change.

From the geological record it is known that this ice cover can quickly deteriorate and sometimes thinner at a speed in excess of 30 feet (10 meters) per year [6]. The latest models show that the sea level may rise 1 meter by 2100 and 15 meters by 2500 if emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to grow at the current rate, and the ice cover undergo rapid collapse, as it was in the past.

Despite the potential danger of environmental catastrophe, Antarctica also suggests that countries can cooperate in finding solutions. The Antarctic Treaty [7] is the main example of world peace and international scientific cooperation.

This is a historic agreement, signed in 1961, recognizes the presence in the Antarctica for peaceful and scientific purposes and does not recognize any land claims on the continent. The main purpose of the agreement is to ensure the use of Antarctica for the benefit of all mankind. Also provides for freedom of scientific research and promotes international cooperation. This was also the first non-nuclear agreement ever signed prohibiting the use of Antarctica for nuclear weapons testing or disposal of radioactive waste.

Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty, 10% of the earth's Land surface is protected as a wildlife refuge. In addition, the agreement highlights areas that no one will ever visit.

Even in the harsh climate of the Antarctic, life finds a way to survive [8] – showing that even the most complex problems have solutions. 200 years of Antarctic research also teaches that the humanity must cooperate, to cooperate in order to find new, to improve the lives of future generations and to overcome common problems.

Makarov Danil

 

References

  1. Quick Facts on Ice Sheets – https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/icesheets.html
  2. Sealing, whaling and krill fishing in the Southern Ocean – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/polar-record/article/sealing-whaling-and-krill-fishing-in-the-southern-ocean-past-and-possible-future-effects-on-catch-regulations/F7B2E7A63A6251AE7A5E7A24C023802C
  3. Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 1979-2017 – https://www.pnas.org/content/116/4/1095
  4. Increasedice losses from Antarctica detected by CryoSat‐2 – https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL060111
  5. Rapid Thinning of Pine Island Glacier in the Early Holocene is – https://science.sciencemag.org/content/343/6174/999.abstract
  6. Dogovorov Antarctica – https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BE%D1%80_%D0%BE%D0%B1_%D0%90%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BA%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B5
  7. Antarctic wildlife – https://www.bas.ac.uk/about/antarctica/wildlife/

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