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The Spirit of Mawson Blog

The Spirit of Mawson Blog

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Published by alaphiah1196
Expedition of Global Warming Scientists that got stuck in the antarctic on way to study effects of global warming. Their stated goals
Expedition of Global Warming Scientists that got stuck in the antarctic on way to study effects of global warming. Their stated goals

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Published by: alaphiah1196 on Jan 05, 2014
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08/22/2014

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THE SCIENCE CASETHE SCIENCE CASE
The Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914 resulted in the first complete study of the vast region which lies south of Australia and New Zealand.The three years’ worth of observations gleaned by Mawson and his men provide a unique dataset against which we can compare the changes seen today.Policy documents highlight numerous science questions that need to be urgently addressed across the region. And yet, despite of a century of research,major questions remain about whether the changes seen today are exceptional. The combination of extreme conditions and vast distances involvedmake the Australasian sector of the Antarctic one of the most problematic to study.The scale of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is staggering. Over 98% of the continent is submerged by three large ice sheets that drown theunderlying topography. The Australasian sector is dominated by the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the largest of three ice sheets that contains enoughfreshwater to raise the world’s sea level by some 52 metres. Until recently it was thought this ice sheet was stable, sitting on the continental crust abovetoday’s sea level. However there is an increasing body of evidence, including by the AAE members, that have identified parts of the East Antarctic whichare highly susceptible to melting and collapse from ocean warming.The surrounding Southern Ocean has an enormous influence on Antarctica, isolating the continent from the rest of the planet. This vast expanse of wateris home to the largest ocean current in the world: the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The size of this current is prodigious, transporting around a millioncubic metres of seawater every second. This current plays a crucial role linking the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while also acting as one of the greatheat and carbon sinks for the atmosphere. Importantly, some 70% of all wind energy going into the world’s oceans enters through the AntarcticCircumpolar Current. Most of the energy comes from the southern hemisphere westerly wind belt – the colourfully named ‘roaring forties’, ‘furious forties’ and ‘screaming sixties’. Over the last 40 years or so, this wind belt has been shifting south, and as a result caused massive disruption to the circulation of the Southern Ocean and climate of the region. The impacts over the next century are likely to be some of the most significant anywhere on our planetand could have global consequences. The effects of this marked shift in westerly winds are already being seen today, triggering warm and salty water tobe drawn up from the deep ocean, melting large sections of the Antarctic ice sheet with unknown consequences for future sea level rise while the ability othe Antarctic Circumpolar Current to soak up heat and carbon from the atmosphere remains deeply uncertain.
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Image credit: Ben Maddison 
The little explored subantarctic islands in the Southern Ocean have experienced some of the most significant warming. The response of the richbiodiversity in the region to change remains a major area of research, particularly because many of the plants and animals found on and around theislands are subject to numerous pressures. The region is a complex and finely balanced system, with some of the islands still recovering from industrial-scale hunting of whales, seals and penguins. Add climate change into the mixture and the future remains difficult to predict. A key problem for reducing the uncertainty in climate projections is historical records of change are often too short to test the skill of climate models,raising concerns over our ability to successfully plan for the future. In this regard, the original AAE observations are a crucial dataset, providing aninvaluable baseline against which to compare. However, large gaps in our knowledge of past change in the region remain. Fortunately, a wealth of naturalarchives – such as recorded by trees, peats and lake sediments – provide an opportunity to bridge the gap between modern observations and the recentgeological past. Previous work has shown that large-scale shifts have taken place in the past. The causes remain unknown. When and where these tippingpoints may be reached in the Antarctic continues to be an area of great uncertainty.The Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 is therefore undertaking a programme of research across the region, building on the work 100 yearsago, to try to better understand present and future change in Antarctica and Southern Ocean (Figure 1).
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Figure 1: The different components of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 science programme (aligned with the Australian Antarctic Science strategic plan 2011 to 2021).
 
We are going south to:
1. gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle2. explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay3. use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past4. investigate the impact of changing climate on the ecology of the subantarctic islands5. discover the environmental influence on seabird populations across the Southern Ocean and in Commonwealth Bay6. understand changes in seal populations and their feeding patterns in the Southern Ocean and Commonwealth Bay7. produce the first underwater surveys of life in the subantarctic islands and Commonwealth Bay8. determine the extent to which human activity and pollution has directly impacted on this remote region of Antarctica9. provide baseline data to improve the next generation of atmospheric, oceanic and ice sheet models to improve predictions for the future 
For more information, do feel free to contact us. We hope you can join the team.
Professor Chris Turney and Dr Chris FogwillThe Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014University of New South Wales 
Further Reading
 Australian Government, 2011.
 Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan 2011–12 to 2020–21 
. Australian Antarctic Division, Tasmania, p. 74.Burrows, M.T., Schoeman, D.S., Buckley, L.B., Moore, P., Poloczanska, E.S., Brander, K.M., Brown, C., Bruno, J.F., Duarte, C.M., Halpern, B.S., Holding, J.,Kappel, C.V., Kiessling, W., O’Connor, M.I., Pandolfi, J.M., Parmesan, C., Schwing, F.B., Sydeman, W.J. Richardson, A.J., 2011. The pace of shifting climate inmarine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Science 
 
334
, 652-655.Cook, A.J., Poncet, S., Cooper, A.P.R., Herbert, D.J. Christie, D., 2010. Glacier retreat on South Georgia and implications for the spread of rats.
 Antarctic Science 
 
22
, 255-263.Fogwill, C.J., Hein, A.S., Bentley, M.J. Sugden, D.E., 2011. Do blue-ice moraines in the Heritage Range show the West Antarctic ice sheet survived the lastinterglacial?
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 
 
335-336
, 61-70.Forcada, J. Trathan, P.N., 2009. Penguin responses to climate change in the Southern Ocean.
Global Change Biology 
 
15
, 1618-1630.Gille, S.T., 2008. Decadal-scale temperature trends in the Southern Hemisphere ocean.
 Journal of Climate
21
, 4749-4765.Kriegler, E., Hall, J.W., Dawson, R. Schellnhuber, H.J., 2009. Imprecise probability assessment of tipping points in the climate system.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
106
, 5041-5046.Le Quéré, C., Raupach, M.R., Canadell, J.G., Marland, G. et al., 2009. Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide.
Nature Geoscience
2
, 831-836.Lenton, T.M., Held, H., Kriegler, E., Hall, J.W., Lucht, W., Rahmstorf, S. Schellnhuber, H.J., 2008. Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
105
, 1786-1793.
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