Sunday, July 15, 2012

Antarctica faces growing threats from global warming and human activities

Texas A&M "Big News Network": An international team of researchers has warned that the continent of Antarctica is at risk from human activities and other forces, and suggested environmental management is needed to protect the planet's last great wilderness area.

Texas A and M University oceanographer Mahlon "Chuck" Kennicutt II, who was included in team, said Antarctica faces growing threats from global warming, loss of sea ice and landed ice, increased tourism, over-fishing in the region, pollution and invasive species creeping into the area. One of the longer-term concerns that may present the greatest threat overall is the potential for oil, gas and mineral exploitation on the continent and in the surrounding ocean, the researchers noted.

Kennicutt, professor of oceanography who has conducted research in the area for more than 25 years, said the Antarctic Treaty System that governs the continent has worked well since it was established in 1962 and that 50 countries currently adhere to the treaty, but it is under pressure today from global climate changes and the ever-present interest in the area's natural resources, from fish to krill to oil to gas to minerals.

"Many people may not realize that Antarctica is a like a 'canary in a coal mine' when it comes to global warming, and Antarctica serves as a sort of thermostat for Earth," he pointed out. "The polar regions are the most sensitive regions on Earth to global warming, responding rapidly, so what happens in Antarctica in response to this warming affects the entire Earth system in many ways that we barely understand," Kennicutt explained.

...More than twice the size of the United States, Antarctica has no cities, no government and no permanent residents. All who go to Antarctica are short-time visitors, whether they are scientists, personnel that support scientists or tourists. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest location on Earth and is the only continent with no time zones....

The Pegasus mountain range in Antarctica, shot by euphro, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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