About ACCE

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To understand how planet Earth works we study it increasingly as a system – a collection of interdependent parts or spheres – the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the biosphere and the atmosphere. Understanding how these spheres are connected and how they interact improves our ability to forecast how one or a combination of them may change in response to external forcings caused for example by the advent of volcanic eruptions, solar variability or human activities. One of the remotest parts of the Earth system is Antarctica, a continent larger than either Australia or Europe. We will not be able to fully understand how the Earth system works without comprehensive knowledge of the physical, biological, chemical and geological processes taking place within and above Antarctica and its surrounding Southern Ocean. That is a huge challenge given that these processes take place among some of the remotest and harshest environments anywhere on the Earth’s surface.

Currents and waves in the global ocean and the atmosphere ensure that Antarctica is affected by what happens elsewhere on the planet. Equally, ocean and atmospheric processes ensure that what happens in Antarctica may affect the rest of the world. It is the world’s freezer.

Much has been achieved in acquiring knowledge of Antarctica’s physical, biological, chemical and geological processes, especially since a network of permanent scientific stations was established for the first time on the continent during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. Many more results will emerge from the recently completed International Polar Year of 2007-2008. Nevertheless, the practicalities and expense involved in getting scientists to these remote and harsh places means that this region will remain under-sampled for years to come, constraining what can be achieved in the way of both understanding and forecasts.

What we set out to do in this volume is to review present understanding of the physical and chemical climate system of the Antarctic region, the way it varies through time, and the profound influence of that variation on life on land and in the ocean around the continent. We then use this as the basis for predicting, albeit crudely within the limits of the dearth of information compared with the other continents, what may happen in the future as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere and as the ozone hole starts to diminish. This volume should be taken as a companion to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment published in 2005.

The work has been carried out under the editorial control of representatives of three of SCAR’s five major scientific research programmes: Antarctica in the Global Climate System (AGCS), Antarctic Climate Evolution (ACE), and Evolution and Biodiversity in the Antarctic (EBA). The process began in 2005 when the SCAR Executive Committee meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria (July 11-13, 2005) agreed that an Antarctic Climate Impact Assessment should be produced for the guidance of policy makers in the Antarctic Treaty System and to inform the public. The plan for the assessment was fleshed out at the first SCAR Cross-Linkages Workshop, in Amsterdam (November 15-17, 2005) (http://www.scar.org/researchgroups/crosslinkages/Amsterdam_Meeting_Report.pdf). Phase I focused on the physics of the climate system. The plans were presented to policy makers at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Edinburgh in 2006 (http://www.scar.org/treaty/atcmxxix/atcm29_ip089.pdf). Initial results were presented to policy makers at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in New Delhi in 2007 (http://www.scar.org/treaty/atcmxxx/Atcm30_ip005_e.pdf) and published in the journal Reviews in Geophysics in January 2009 (Mayewski et al., 2009[1]). In the meantime work had begun on Phase II, incorporating biology and chemistry, and preliminary results were presented to policy makers at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Kiev in 2008 (http://www.scar.org/treaty/atcmxxxi/ATCM31_IP62_ACCE.pdf), with final results being presented to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Baltimore in 2009 (http://www.scar.org/treaty/atcmxxxii/Atcm32_ip005_e.pdf). A summary paper on the science is currently being prepared for the journal Antarctic Science.

Inputs were obtained through a process of open consultation with the wider community in which scientists affiliated with SCAR or known to be active in climate and environmental sciences in Antarctica or the Southern Ocean were asked for text on key topics. A first draft was then circulated to the wider community for comment in June 2008. The editorial board then modified the text for a second round of open consultation in March 2009. Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, representatives of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR), and representatives of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes (COMNAP) were also asked for input.

The book is available as 500 hard copies, and as individual downloadable chapters on the SCAR web site, so as to encourage its widespread use as a research and teaching resource. It is SCAR’s intention to update the report at regular intervals and to provide updates of advice on the topic to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings.

This volume is a contribution to the International Polar Year 2007-2008. It is also a contribution to the goals of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), and in particular to its Climate and Cryosphere programme (CliC), of which SCAR is a co-sponsor. In addition it is intended that it be made available to attendees at the meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, and subsequently to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

There is a historical context to the development of the ACCE volume, which can be considered as an eventual outcome of the work of the SCAR Group of Specialists on Antarctic Climate Research formed in 1980 to plan the Antarctic contribution to the WCRP (then about to be formed). The first product of the Group was “Antarctic Climate Research: Proposals for the Implementation of a Programme of Antarctic Research contributing to the World Climate Research Programme”. I Allison (ed), 1983. Cambridge, SCAR, 65 pp. Many of the recommendations of that report continue to be carried out, and their pursuance over the years has enabled us to arrive at the ACCE review.

Further plans for climate-related research were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by SCAR's Steering Committee for the newly formed International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP). They were published as:

(i) The Role of Antarctica in Global Change. Prepared by the SCAR Steering Committee for the IGBP: 28 pp., 1989. ISBN 0 930 35718 3

(ii) The Role of the Antarctic in Global Change: An International Plan for a Regional Research Programme, Prepared by the SCAR Steering Committee for the IGBP: 54 pp., 1992. ISBN 0 948277 15 7.

Following the recommendations of those reports SCAR created programmes such as Antarctic Sea Ice Processes and Climate (ASPeCt), Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Sea Level (ISMASS) and the International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE) to explore aspects of the physical and chemical elements of the climate system in the Antarctic. In parallel, SCAR developed programmes such as ANTOSTRAT to look at the geological history of climate change and the development of the ice sheet in the distant past, and SCAR biologists began working on EVOLANTA to examine the evolution of organisms through time in response to external forcings. With SCAR’s reorganisation in 2004, the physical climate activities became absorbed into AGCS, the biological activities became absorbed into EBA, and the geological ones into ACE. AGCS, ACE and EBA all collaborated on ACCE.

The ACCE editorial board was responsible for overall editing, with some editors operating as lead authors on certain chapters. The editorial board takes full responsibility for errors. Editors are listed alphabetically following the lead editor, Dr. John Turner.

The editors would like to thank the 100 scientists from various fields who provided substantial textual input and who are listed alphabetically as authors of the appropriate chapters after the chapter editor. Many others provide editorial comments and corrections of matters of fact. We also thank Ms. Gill Alexander from the British Antarctic Survey for collating all the references and formatting the material for publication. Mr. Jamie Oliver from BAS prepared the front cover.


  1. Mayewski, P.A., Meredith, M.P., Summerhayes, C.P., Turner, J., Worby, A.P., Barrett, P.J., Casassa, G., Bertler, N.A.N., Bracegirdle, T.J., Naveira-Garabato, A.C., Bromwich, D.H., Campbell, H., Hamilton, G.H., Lyons, W.B., Maasch, K.A., Aoki, S., and Xiao, C. 2009. State of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Climate System (SASOCS), Reviews of Geophysics, 47, RG1003, doi:10.1029/2007RG000231.