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Icy Ecosystems

Every year, scientists and support staff from around the world travel to this extreme environment to take part in extensive research programmes. These projects often extend over several seasons and involve scientists from a range of countries and disciplines: biologists, chemists, physicists and geologists often work as part of a team. Teams usually share equipment, programme costs and expertise, and develop extensive linkages as a result of this collaboration. New technologies such as satellite links and data loggers allow researchers to set up equipment in the field during the summer, and collect and analyse information throughout the year.

The harsh terrestrial environment places severe demands on Antarctica’s land plants and animals. Air temperatures are usually well below freezing, and strong winds exaggerate the effects of the cold; there is total darkness for three months during winter, while the summer sees 24-hour sunshine; and fresh water is provided only by snow melt. In contrast, the nutrient-rich surrounding oceans are rich in plant and animal life. But whether they live in the seas or on land, all Antarctic organisms have physical, physiological and behavioural adaptations that allow them to survive in this extreme environment.

Our interest in Antarctica was initially based on exploration and the search for resources. But today’s scientists have much broader interests:

  • Antarctica’s geological history and the forces that have shaped it
  • Its organisms and ecosystems and their adaptations for extreme environments
  • Data related to weather, climate change and ozone depletion
  • Increasingly, the environmental management, protection and conservation of this unique continent

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