Climate Change in Antarctica and the Deep Ocean

13 April 2021


How is climate change affecting the most extreme and remote habitats on the planet? How are scientists studying these changes?

In the third episode of our series on science and policy in Antarctica, the Deep Ocean, and Space, we explored the consequences of climate change in Antarctica and the Deep Ocean and discussed the scientific efforts – including those which employ near space technologies – to understand and mitigate the worst effects of global warming. Throughout this episode, host Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by CSaP policy intern Anthony Lindley, atmospheric physicist Professor Joanna Haigh, oceanographer Professor Penny Holiday, and atmospheric scientist Professor John King.

Throughout their conversation, expert guests addressed climate change in Antarctica, climate monitoring and mitigation, the pitfalls in space-based geoengineering proposals, the climate impact of space exploration, the work oceanographers and Antarctic scientists are undertaking to minimize their carbon footprints, climate modelling in the Antarctic, and changing attitudes towards protecting our climate.

You can listen to the episode here:

Climate Change in Antarctica:

According to Professor King, the polar regions of our planet are one of the first parts of the planet likely to respond to climate change. While the changes seen in the Antarctic so far are less obvious than the changes seen in the Arctic, there are still clear signs of the impacts on Antarctic which can be seen from satellite mapping of large ice losses. While there may be tipping points for Antarctica, unlike in the Arctic where there are reasons to believe we may have already passed a tipping point, in the Antarctic much less is known about whether there are tipping points or where those points might be, given the region’s unique geography and the competing influences of the Southern Ocean, continental ice sheets, and the atmosphere. While there is still a lot we do not know, Professor King has emphasized that this region is strongly connected to the global system – acting as a driver of the global ocean conveyer belt and contributing to rising sea levels.

Climate Monitoring and Mitigation:

According to Professor Haigh, our understanding of climate change has been significantly shaped by what we have learned from space. Satellites have helped us to understand how the atmosphere and climate are changing, using variables from monitoring the properties of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice. With time, the quality of this data has improved, helping us to track individual weather patterns such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, and sea surface temperatures in the Pacific. According to Professor King, these satellite systems have been particularly valuable in helping us to understand the Antarctic. However, Professor Holiday notes that space observation alone cannot give us important details about what is happening underneath the ocean surface, with ocean current changes also having an impact on our climate system. Here, scientists are also studying marine heat which has had devastating impacts on some local ecosystems, and which plays a valuable role in developing climate models and creating climate projections.

Satellites also play an important role in helping scientists who are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change, by identifying sites for situating wind turbines and solar energy systems, and by engaging in disaster monitoring to help predict where prevention measures such as flood defenses or coastal protections are most needed. Meanwhile, ocean experts are helping to mitigate climate change through the restoration of natural vegetative ecosystems around coastal areas which will store carbon while benefiting biodiversity.

CSaP: The Science & Policy Podcast’s six-part miniseries on Science & Policy for Space, Deep Oceans & Antarctica will be released throughout March and April 2021. This series is available across all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Podbean, ListenNotes, Acast, Player.FM, Podcast Addict, and Castbox. This series is hosted by Dr Rob Doubleday and is produced by Kate McNeil with the support of research assistants Alice Millington and Anthony Lindley.