Science and the Protection of the Antarctic Environment

The Antarctic environment is now a prime focus of interest in terms of its value for scientific research, nature conservation and tourism. While for scientists Antarctica is unique for its role in global processes and for its ecological and environmental value, many other people perceive it as the last unspoiled corner of the world and a symbol of global conservation. This book shows that "pure" air and snow do not exist, even in Antarctica. Scientific work on this continent should increase social awareness of the fact that, if global environmental threats are not addressed, near-pristine Antarctic ecosystems will also be at risk. Although scientific research in Antarctica is of paramount importance in addressing climatic and environmental challenges, there is no doubt that the value of Antarctica for science should be weighed against the environmental impact of scientific work and its logistic support. The unique environmental characteristics and global significance of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are such that research should be carried out in these regions only when it cannot be done as effectively elsewhere. Another essential prerequisite of research in Antarctica is that the expected output should justify the inevitable environmental impact.As for environmental research, scientific programmes should deal with processes of regional or global significance.

In spite of intensive international research on climate change and its possible effects on the Antarctic environment, there are still many challenges and opportunities for research on global processes. This book emphasises the study of long-range transport of persistent contaminants and possible modifications due to variations in climate or anthropogenic activity in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite the trend towards the internationalisation of scientific research which addresses multidisciplinary questions of wider global relevance, routine measurements and reliable spatio-temporal trends of basic parameters such as air temperature, atmospheric deposition, sea-ice cover and primary productivity in the Southern Ocean are lacking. The shortage of temporal and spatial time-series data hampers the development of reliable models of climate change and of atmospheric contaminant pathways. Possible connections between the Antarctic climate and meteorological phenomena with the ENSO phenomenon and the rest of the global atmosphere are largely unknown.

Although the atmosphere is the most important pathway for the transport of persistent contaminants in Antarctica, recent studies indicate that the journey of many POPs from their zone of emission to polar ecosystems is affected by complex interactions among air, ice, seawater and plankton organisms. These interactions are poorly understood and can be easily modified by changes in climatic and meteorological factors such as temperature, precipitation, wind, ice cover, surface currents and the productivity of ocean surface waters. Reliable regional monitoring networks of contaminant deposition in Antarctica should therefore be established through the collaboration of scientists working on contaminant issues with those working on climate change, glaciology and oceanography. Antarctic regions are likely to be the ultimate sink of most volatile POPs and some trace metals; the specific composition of these persistent contaminants may yield information on either the probable source or the history of these compounds (through metabolites and their parent compounds), and on mineral deposits and volcanic sources. The results of long-term monitoring and the assessment of geographically extensive patterns will be very useful in pointing out possible sources and pathways in the

Southern Hemisphere, and will complement research on climatic and meteorological processes.

The creation of a relevant Antarctic monitoring network for POPs and trace metals requires the development of a specifically designed international programme with standardised procedures for sampling and analysis of environmental matrices such as lake sediments and algae, cryptogamic organisms, preen oil or feathers from albatrosses, petrels, Adélie and/or Emperor penguins or skin biopsies from Weddell seals and other widespread species of marine mammals. Sampling strategies should take into account the extreme seasonality of the Antarctic environment and the ecophysiology of organisms, and must entail the collection of types and amounts of samples which do not exacerbate damage to terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. Quality control of sampling procedures is necessary to obtain meaningful, comparable results. Although in the last decade increasing attention has been paid to modern, extremely efficient analytical systems, quality control of analytical results has not always been coupled with the development of reliable, standardised procedures for representative sampling and careful preparation of Antarctic environmental matrices. Data collected during monitoring surveys should be managed and archived so that they are accessible and can be effectively used in global assessments. Models of atmospheric transport should be developed to include region-specific dynamics, such as deposition in snow, freshwater sediments and cryptogamic organisms.

This book highlights the study of environmental processes of concern such as gaseous Hg depletion at polar sunrise, which accompanies surface-level ozone depletion. Mercury depletion poses a special challenge to the modelling of the transport and deposition of metals in Antarctica and of their environmental fate in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Environmental research in the next few years should aim to improve the sources inventory for the Southern Hemisphere, refine pathways, gain better knowledge of air-surface exchange, regional- or continental-scale budgets and models, and assess the occurrence in the Antarctic environment of "newer" classes of POPs (e.g. chlorinated paraffins or toxaphene) and elements (e.g. platinum-group elements from cars equipped with catalytic converters). Further efforts are also needed to identify and quantify new or hitherto unknown POPs, notably metabolites, stereoisomers and other polar POPs.

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