New research programme for the protection of Antarctica | Polarjournal
Antarctica is considered the epitome of untouched nature and wilderness. But climate change and human activity of all kinds have increased to such an extent that researchers have growing concerns about its protection. That is why a new integrated research programme is intended to help. Picture: Michael Wenger

Protecting Antarctica is the top priority of the Antarctic Treaty States, at least on paper. But in recent years and decades, the last great wilderness has also come under increasing pressure. Climate change and increased human activities around and on Antarctica have left their mark and are beginning to change the face of Antarctica. In order to better understand possible threats and their effects and to take action, the International Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) has now launched a four-year research programme.

The programme, known as Ant-ICON (Integrated Science to inform Antarctic and Southern Ocean Conservation),will address the problems threatening Antarctica in various scientific branches and propose better and, above all, integrated measures to protect the Aouthern Ocean and Antarctica. All ecosystems, landscapes and all animal and plant species, not just those that are already suffering from threats, should be taken into account. “Ant-ICON will inform and support international efforts under the Antarctic Treaty system to protect and conserve the Antarctic region,” explains Dr. Aleks Terauds of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). The other Chief Officer of the programme is the head of the national Marine Protected Areas in Argentina, Dr. Mercedes Santos.

The research programme consists of a planning group, which also includes the two German researchers Dr. Charlotte Havermans from the University of Bremen (left) and Christina Braun from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (right). Dr. Havermans works in the field of marine ecology and deals with zooplankton, while Christina Braun focuses on seabirds, seals and the consequences of climate change in Antarctica. Images: left: MOSAiC website / right: Hannes Grämer

The programme will cover various areas of science and answer key questions, including the question of tipping points and impact thresholds. But also the role of Antarctic species and ecosystem in the global context will be better investigated, the prospects of human influences and activities and what the govrenance of Antarctica should look like in the face of the new “threats”. Additionally, the question of how scientific results are to be carried out to policy-makers and the public and how to communicate them is also a further focus of research. “Ant-ICON is innovative as it is the first SCAR Research Programme to integrate socio-ecological research and take such a transdisciplinary approach to informing environmental policy-making,” continues Dr. Terauds. For this purpose, 45 members from 19 countries from a wide range of research fields are represented in the team of the planning group. From Germany, Dr. Charlotte Havemans from the University of Bremen and research assistant Christina Braun from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena are part of the group. Stakeholders such as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition ASOC for environmental issues and the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators IAATO in tourism will also be integrated into the programme. The programme is planned for four years and its research results are to be incorporated into the future decisions of the Antarctic Treaty States.

Although Antarctica seems to be somewhat less affected by climate change due to its size, changes in various places in Antarctica are now becoming more and more rapid. Animals such as Adélie penguins or leopard seals, which basically spend their entire lives near the Antarctic continent, are likely to face an uncertain future. Picture: Michael Wenger

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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