Antarctic Glacier
Antarctic Glacier with cavities. Beautiful winter background.

For the next five years, three core areas of science will be the focus of New Zealand’s research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Interdisciplinary research into Antarctic’s physical environments, Southern Ocean research and Antarctic ecosystems research are the three main research themes selected in New Zealand’s new science strategy, released in August.

“Antarctica is a global barometer for the rest of the world. This strategy holds the key to unlocking vital information about the Antarctic and Southern Ocean, which will help us to better understand global climate change,” said Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Lou Sanson in a statement.

Since 1923, New Zealand has had a territorial claim to the Ross Dependency, a slice of Antarctica 17 times the size of New Zealand. That territorial claim was given a physical presence back in 1957 when Sir Edmund Hillary led the team that set up Scott Base and also made the first overland trek to the South Pole since Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated journey.

Back in 1957, New Zealand’s scientific work also began: measurements of the weather have been made since the establishment of Scott Base. This record, Antarctic New Zealand says, “is one of the longest and most important on the continent.

“New Zealand had notched up more recent and more modern scientific successes, including a major drilling project at Cape Roberts which have led to Antarctica New Zealand becoming the project operator for a new multinational drilling program in Antarctica. That project, ANDRILL, will investigate the climatic history of Antarctica over the past 65 million years in a project which will take 7 to 8 years to complete. Scientists from New Zealand, the United States, Germany and Italy is involved in the planning of ANDRILL.

Another key New Zealand research project is the Latitudinal Gradient Project, which is investigating ecosystems and the effects of environmental change on these systems along the Victoria Land coastline and again encompasses scientists from many disciplines and different countries.

“The [new science] strategy encourages scientific collaboration across different Antarctic disciplines and sets the compass for the course ahead. It draws together all the scientific strands and focuses New Zealand’s strategic interests in the Ross Sea region” said Dr. Dean Peterson, science strategy manager for Antarctica New Zealand in a statement. The science strategy will be used by Antarctica New Zealand to determine logistics support priorities and by the Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology to prioritize funding. It will be implemented by the international principles and protocols that New Zealand endorses as a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty.

This year’s Antarctic season kicks off in mid-August when the first flight leaves from Christchurch for Antarctica to relieve the wintering over staff. This season also sees the return of the octogenarian Sir Edmund Hillary to Antarctica, for possibly the last time. Local newspaper, the Dominion Post, reports that Sir Edmund will travel to Antarctica in November for a television documentary about the 50th anniversary of Scott Base.

The New Zealand base was built as part of New Zealand’s commitment to the International Geophysical Year; fifty years on the scientific world will hold an International Polar Year which New Zealand will participate in. New Zealand’s new science strategy will be used, Antarctic New Zealand says, in the formulation of New Zealand’s commitment to the International Polar Year in 2007-08.

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