Submission from the British Antarctic
1. The Southern Ocean is of global importance.
It regulates the temperature of all the world's oceans and contains
unique marine living resources. To deliver UK-relevant science
on these topics, the British Antarctic Survey cooperates with
other national and international programmes to tackle pressing
scientific problems related to global climate change and exploitation
of biological resources. The Committee's attention is drawn to
the world-class scientific contribution made by the UK, the mechanisms
employed to deliver credible scientific advice to HMG for foreign
and domestic policy, and the capacity and value for money provided
by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in undertaking Southern
Ocean research. This document describes why and how the UK should
continue to develop Southern Ocean science into the future.
2. The importance and value of the Southern
Ocean to the UK motivates the British Antarctic Survey's research
on climate change and the Antarctic marine system. The increasing
pace of environmental change means there is greater need than
ever for investment in this research and for long-term monitoring
of this marine system. For the UK to continue to project excellent
science into the Southern Ocean, provide reliable scientific evidence
for policy makers and lead scientific, commercial and political
affairs in the region it must be recognised that:
Southern Ocean research is interdisciplinary
by nature and best undertaken by an organisation like BAS, where
the essential disciplines in marine science are housed together;
Continuity is vital. BAS has
a strong and unique record of research and long-term monitoring
in the Southern Ocean and this must continue for the UK to maintain
its leading role in the region;
Issues are moving rapidly in
the Southern Ocean and the UK must be poised to exploit scientific
opportunities. For example we are entering a new phase of exploitation
of Antarctic krill (Hansard 15 January 2007: Column 508)
which must be managed on the basis of sound scientific evidence
that BAS will provide.
3. This paper should be read with those
from the Natural Environment Research Council and the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office since they are closely linked. This paper
also contains evidence that is related to written evidence provided
by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the House of Commons
Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry on trade, development and
4. The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica
seems remote but is highly relevant politically, socially and
economically to the UK. It is a critical cooling element in the
oceanic thermohaline circulation system, refrigerating 40% of
the world's oceans and regulating regional and global climate.
The Southern Ocean contains probably the largest unexploited marine
protein resource. It also has fragile ecosystems and exceptional
biological diversity that, because of its isolation, is unique
on the planet. Yet, as the global climate changes, so does the
Southern Ocean. It is the location of one of the world's fastest
warming regionsthe seas around the Antarctic Peninsulaand
change here is attributable to the effects of human activity.
It encircles Antarctica, the coldest continent and the largest
reservoir of ice in the world, which, if it were all to melt,
would raise sea level by up to 60 metres.
5. There has already been extensive environmental
change in the Southern Ocean and more is expected:
Surface water temperature in
the vicinity of the Antarctic Peninsula has increased by more
than 1°C over the last five decades and continues to rise.
There have been profound impacts
on the marine system including a probable 80% decrease in the
amount of Antarctic krill in the last three decadesthis
is a critical food source for whales, seals, penguins and albatrosses
as well as for some commercially exploited species of fish.
There have been major changes
in the balance of top predators over the last 200 years due to
sealing, whaling and fishing.
The Antarctic krill fishery
targets resources with potential to provide high quality protein
and high-value nutritional supplements for human consumption and
feed for aquaculture. However, unless the krill fishery is managed
on the basis of sound scientific advice there is potential for
massive damage to the Southern Ocean ecosystem.
Many Antarctic marine species,
especially the "cold blooded" ectotherms, are physiologically
and genetically unique. This makes them especially vulnerable
to environmental changeit has been shown that many are
unable to tolerate a temperature increase of only 2°C. Studying
them is of wider relevance as species elsewhere also have to adapt
to a warmer world.
6. The Southern Ocean and Antarctica are
too large and remote for any single nation to tackle all the scientific
issues involved, so effort is coordinated through the international
Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR). Nations cooperate
to carry out research on the effects of global climate change
on the Southern Ocean, increasing our understanding of the consequences
for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. The size of the
UK scientific operation in Antarctica is second only to the USA
and through BAS the UK has national capability to provide international
scientific leadership in the Southern Ocean. This is achieved
by combining, in one institute, a critical mass of diverse scientists
and by using assets to maximum effect over many years in a planned
programme. Scientific expertise and leadership, as well as first
class polar logistics capability, enables BAS to provide the national
focus for polar science undertaken by the wider UK science community.
Fundamental science in the Southern Ocean
7. BAS provides the UK with fundamental
science relevant to current pressing global concerns. It does
this through a highly developed national capability, which includes
advanced computer facilities for high resolution modelling of
the interactions between the Southern Ocean, the atmosphere and
the Antarctic ice system. BAS has an excellent record of delivering
scientific advice to Whitehall and providing scientific evidence
on which policy is based.
8. BAS's interdisciplinary science integrates
physical and biological oceanography, including fisheries-related
ecological research, with work on the atmosphere, climate, glaciology
and geology. It includes research on Southern Ocean biodiversity,
evolution and adaptation at all levels cells to ecosystems. It
tackles problems concerned with the formation, circulation and
mixing of water masses that regulate ocean temperature and maintain
stability. UK research is exploring the likelihood of collapse
of the ice shelves and the dynamics of the West Antarctic Ice
Sheet. This is vital for understanding sea level rise and assessing
the threat of flooding to low-lying land in the UK and elsewhere,
including Britain's Overseas Territories.
9. BAS also provides the logistic capability
to project into the Southern Ocean UK research on the natural
oceanic plankton production processes that remove carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere and the acidification of the oceans by excess
carbon dioxide. This has particular relevance to the Southern
Ocean because of its ecological sensitivity and productivity.
Where BAS does not possess specific scientific skills it collaborates
to ensure strategic direction and leadership are maintained in
the UK research community.
British Antarctic Survey capability in the Southern
10. BAS provides the UK's logistic capability
in the Southern Ocean including two ice-strengthened research
vessels and four shore-based research stations. It provides the
intellectual leadership to tackle interdisciplinary research problems
and holds unique long-term data sets, in some cases spanning decades,
recording environmental change in the Southern Ocean. It carries
out year-round, shore-based marine science, including biological
and oceanographic monitoring. The data provide a unique resource
for understanding long-term variability and change. BAS has the
capacity to integrate remotely sensed oceanographic data from
satellites with data collected at sea. It links together new marine
science technologies for large-scale data collection and possesses
a world-class ability to integrate information from different
sources. It houses state of the art computing facilities for data
processing and modelling.
11. A new era of ocean science is dawning
in which use of research vessels for data collection in the oceans
is being enhanced by new in situ technologies including remote
unmanned systems such as moorings, drifters and gliders. These
provide synoptic data at relatively low cost and are currently
being introduced into Southern Ocean research by BAS scientists.
These will link with similar systems deployed by other national
programmes. More of this will be needed in the future, as environmental
change gathers speed.
12. BAS provides training for the next generation
of British marine scientists, equipping them with specific skills
for Southern Ocean research.
Science into policy
13. The British Antarctic Survey has a strong
record of delivering scientific inputs to HMG policy. These include:
Antarctic Treaty (including
a recent initiative to develop Marine Protected Areas in the Southern
Commission for the Conservation
for Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)the first
international organisation to adopt an ecosystem framework for
fisheries management providing a model for fisheries management
elsewhere, including European waters.
Management of the fisheries
in waters surrounding the South Atlantic Overseas Territories
(South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands).
Agreement on Conservation of
Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP)part of the Convention on
Migratory Species (CMS).
Wider policy areas such as the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and ozone.
14. A recent major issue has been the catastrophic
decline of albatrosses in the Southern Ocean. BAS research data
has provided scientific evidence to develop policy leading to
substantial reduction of mortality in Antarctic waters. This has
attracted much attention from the scientific and conservation
communities including the Royal Society for the Protection of
Conclusion: the Future of Marine Science in the
15. BAS science in the Southern Ocean is
linked to the new Oceans 2025 programme of UK based, marine science
funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. Through BAS,
the UK will lead Southern Ocean science through the International
Polar Year (2007-08). It will also lead beyond this milestone
through international programmes including European initiatives.
16. The environmental issues identified
here are of rapidly increasing importance to the UK and other
nations, as the Stern Review has highlighted. We can already observe
the impact of global climate change on world food security, global
biodiversity, ocean circulation and sea-level rise. This will
be one of the fastest growth areas for scientific research over
the next decade and beyond. BAS research in the Southern Ocean
provides a critical element of the Natural Environment Research
Council's spending review programme "Living with Environmental
17. The UK must maintain strong scientific
leadership in Southern Ocean science where it has unique assets
and extensive experience. BAS needs the investment of resources
to enhance its capability to provide the best scientific advice
to inform UK policy. It requires a critical mass of intellectual
leadership, to ensure the nation's capacity to meet the challenges
ahead and the ability to capitalise on future opportunities provided
by new initiatives and new technology.
18. BAS is crucial to maintaining the UK's
position in the science and governance in the Southern Ocean and
to capitalising on the scientific, commercial and political opportunities
in the region.
19. BAS will be happy to provide further
evidence, or to amplify any of the points in this paper.