From Professor Gary Wilson (Director of NZARI, Chief Scientific Advisor for Antarctica New Zealand and Professor of Marine Science & Geology at Otago University)
The New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute (NZARI) is a trust that is engaged with the fact that Antarctica finds itself at the frontline of the impact of climate change. With no permanent residents, and with the fact that resulting sea level rise from melting ice sheets and changes to the Southern Ocean ecosystem, addressing the challenge of climate change in Antarctic is a global challenge that transcends individual government interests.
While a number of governments undertake research and participate in the Antarctic Treaty, their research programmes are inevitably focussed on national perspective and interest. As we know that doesn’t always deliver the best outcomes for their citizens, neighbouring governments, or the environment. NZARI takes the view that we need to work on what is in Antarctica’s and the wider globe’s interest. In this sense, our research is focussed on accelerating answers to questions that address Antarctica’s future with a warming climate and the impact of that on the wider world.
With that in mind, we are directing our meagre resources to look at critical elements of the wider physical ice and ocean system as well as the linked unique and iconic ecosystems. We have launched a major research effort to investigate the Ross Ice Shelf – the largest floating glacier in the world and the buffer between the cold ice sheets and the warming ocean. We have also initiated a monitoring programme at the northern-most limit of the Ross Sea to provide early detection of changing ocean and climate in Antarctica. NZARI is also engaged in drawing key stakeholders into the challenge – media, governments, and educators – through our winter school and TEDx talks.
We are in a unique position because the New Zealand government is very supportive of public private partnerships and will match every dollar we can raise for this important work with additional research support as well as logistics support for our Antarctic expedition to make those hard-won advances.
One thing folks often ask is why do we need more research? Well, Antarctica falls in the gaps of our understanding. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change only refer to Antarctica in passing, when the panel noted that their advice on future climate change did not include any unpredictable response from Antarctica. Yet, Antarctica will produce the majority of sea level change and change to the marine food-web.
We know that Antarctica responded at previous high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere but that all happened much more slowly and now we have increased CO2 at an unprecedented rate and knowing when the ice sheets and ocean will catch up is critical for future planning and decision-making, even if only to inform us as to what sort of timeframes we are working on and finding out how much is too much.
To deliver its science programme, NZARI has launched a prospectus to raise $50 m (over 5 years) to deliver its targeted research outcomes and we’d be very keen to share that and further material with any interested folks who can help us make a difference to this most challenging and global problem. Our scientists are up to the challenge and spend many weeks and months away from family enduring hardship to get these answers. Hopefully some of your readers can help us deliver in time for humanity.
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