Researchers who have weathered the winter at Antarctic stations have given Euronews their unique views on the looming spectre of climate change. From these bases at the frontline of climate research they repeatedly pressed home the need for urgent action to combat global warming. “Evidence is building on the impacts of climate change not only locally but globally,” urged Agnieszka Fryckowska, the Winter Base Commander at the British Halley Research Station on Antarctica in an exclusive interview. She lives with 11 others on a high-tech platform above the Brunt Ice Shelf, and has witnessed how this chilly region has changed over recent years. “I flew over the Wilkins Ice Shelf region just three years ago. I was surprised at the quick degeneration of the ice shelf and its collapse earlier this year. This is not an isolated occurrence. The Antarctic Peninsula is showing the highest rate of warming in the world.”
The Antarctic is an important regulator for the Earth’s climate, with the surrounding ocean offering a sink for heat and carbon dioxide, buffering the effect of man-made emissions. It’s also one of the areas most at risk from global warming. While the South Pole and east Antarctica have remained stable in terms of temperature in recent years, the western zone has warmed by nearly three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, a change which scientists don’t believe can be attributed to natural variability alone.
Agnieszka and her colleagues spend their days maintaining the base, taking samples to measure ozone and CO2, observing changes, and feeding data back to their colleagues at institutes around the world. Between May and September they live in darkness, surrounded by flat, featureless ice. Their nearest neighbours, 16km away, are a colony of Emperor penguins.
Her base to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula has been providing valuable long-term data on atmospheric sciences, glaciology and geology since it was founded in 1956. Researchers at Halley have already helped make one important contribution to saving the atmosphere from man-made pollutants. “It was datasets collected here that helped the British Antarctic Survey scientists discover the ‘ozone hole’ in 1985. This discovery led to the Montreal Protocol which banned the use of ozone damaging CFC chemicals,” explains Agnieszka. That ban has allowed nature to bounce back: “The hole is now expected to repair itself over the next 50 years”.
Meanwhile at the French Dumont D’Urville station in East Antarctica Bruno Jourdain is among the hundreds of scientists from all around the world working to understand the polar regions. In the rocks below his laboratory lives a colony of Adélie penguins, and beyond that lie the ice fields.
He is studying the atmospheric chemistry of the seventh continent. Emailing Euronews Jourdain stressed that although many conclusions about climate change can already be drawn, science still has a long way to go in understanding fully how man’s activity is impacting the planet.
“In this part of the Antarctic the effects of warming are not that visible, at least at the moment. Studies have brought up the hypothesis of an eventual acceleration in the speed of the outflow glaciers, but these studies are still ongoing. Concerning atmospheric measurements, with less than 20 years’ worth of data we don’t have enough long-term perspective to detect any significant trends,” he said.
However Jourdain remains committed to the need for decisions to be taken on limiting greenhouse gas emissions: “No hesitation, we have to act quickly, the IPCC reports speak for themselves.”
- A Fryckowska