[ View the story "Antarctica's science seekers" on Storify] Antarctica's science seekers Scientists discuss the potential for research in one of the world's most inhospitable locations.
The Stream· Wed, Oct 28 2015 16:26:07
Antarctica's 14 million square kilometres make up a tenth of the world's land and host about 90 percent of the world's fresh water. Beneath the ice covering all but 2 percent of the land, Antarctica is believed to hold valuable resources. But the Antarctic Treaty
that the continent be used only for "peaceful purposes", including scientific research and tourism.
The Antarctic Treaty bans any resource extraction, forbids military activity and freezes all territorial claims on Antarctica. Although only 12 nations were a part of the treaty when it went into effect in 1961, 51 countries are now signatories.
Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom have all made territorial claims to Antarctica, some of them overlapping. The US and Russia both have reserved the right to claim land in the future.
Who Owns Antarctica?TestTube News
Antarctica is the only continent without a native human population. Currently, around 68 Antarctic research stations host an international mix of scientists, researchers and support staff.
@AJStream It has the upside that you can work for 20 hours a day when the weather is good, to make up for the blizzard days...Hanne Nielsen
@AJStream And #Antarctic summer is 24 hour daylight! That can really mess with your sleeping rhythms too, especially if you are in a tent!Hanne Nielsen
Around 4,000 people reside on the continent during the summer months, and about 1,000 remain throughout the harsh Antarctic winters, when temperatures
Antarctica is a research destination for scientists in fields including astronomy, geology and biology.
Climate change science is also a major research focus for Antarctic scientists. Studying changes in Antarctica's glaciers, ice shelves and sea ice allows researchers to calculate potential sea level rise from climate change.
As the the waters of the Southern Ocean warm, the ice shelves around the edges of Antarctica melt and become unstable. One at-risk ice shelf that scientists have been monitoring is West Antarctica's
, which partially collapsed in 2002:
Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf: The Final ActNASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Collapsing ice shelves don't feed sea level rise on their own. But without the ice shelf between the sea and Antarctica's shallow coastlines, warm water is free to flow underneath glaciers, melting them from below. Continual global temperature rise has some scientists
of a total ice shelf collapse by 2100.
Antarctica is also home to organisms that thrive in extreme conditions. Studies of water taken from sub-glacial lakes have revealed genetic material from thousands of species. One sample from Lake Vostak, which lies beneath 3.7 kilometres of ice,
DNA from more than 13,000 species. Many of these creatures
microbial organisms previously unknown to scientists.
Antarctica's high-altitude, dry climate, low temperatures and prolonged periods of darkness make the area one of the best places on earth for astronomical research.
The Stream's online community weighed in on the importance of Antarctic research:
@AJStream Antarctica holds one of our best-kept archives of past climates, recorded in ice and sediments, which hold clues about the futureVeronika Meduna
@AJStream Scientists consider it a living laboratory, which may offer a last chance to study how a healthy marine ecosystem functions.Antarcticocean
@AJStream untouched vast continent, that has ancient reservoirs of water, ice and air.Michael™
@AJStream sometimes I feel that Antarctica is better off without us nosing around
touch,we break.sad legacy.henry tokula
Share your thoughts or questions about Antarctica using #AJStream.