Antarctic climate and environment change in the instrumental period

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Chapter Editor: John Turner

Authors: Byron Adams, Rob Arthern, Angus Atkinson, Carlo Barbante, Roberto Bargagli, Dana Bergstrom, Nancy Bertler, Robert Bindschadler, James Bockheim, Carole Boutron, David Bromwich, Steve Chown, Josifino Comiso, Pete Convey, Alison Cook, Guido di Prisco, Eberhard Fahrbach, Jim Fastook, Jaume Forcarda, Josep-Maria Gili, Mauro Gugliemin, Julian Gutt, Hartmut Hellmer, Françoise Hennion, Karen Heywood, Dominic Hodgson, David Holland, Seok Hong, Ad Huiskes, Enrique Isla, Stan Jacobs, Anna Jones, Andrew Lenton, Gareth Marshall, Paul Mayewski, Mike Meredith, Nicolas Metzl, Andrew Monaghan, Alberto Naveira-Garabato, Kevin Newsham, Covadonga Orejas, Lloyd Peck, Hans-Otto Pörtner, Steve Rintoul, Sharon Robinson, Howard Roscoe, Sergio Rossi, Ted Scambos, Jon Shanklin, Victor Smetacek, Kevin Speer, Mark Stevens, Colin Summerhayes, Phil Trathan, John Turner, Kees van der Veen, David Vaughan, Cinzia Verde, David Webb, Christian Wiencke, Philip Woodworth, Tony Worby, Roger Worland, Takashi Yamanouchi


The instrumental period began with the first voyages to the Southern Ocean during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries when scientists such as Edmund Halley made observations of quantities such as geomagnetism. During the early voyages information was collected on the meteorological conditions across the Southern Ocean, ocean conditions, the sea ice extent and the terrestrial and marine biology.

The continent itself was discovered in 1820, although the collection of data was sporadic through the remainder of the Nineteenth Century and it was not possible to venture into the inhospitable interior of Antarctica.

At the start of the Twentieth Century stations were first operated year-round and this really began the period of organised scientific investigation in the Antarctic. Most of these stations were not operated for long periods, which is a handicap when trying to investigate climate change over the last century.

The International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957/58 saw the establishment of many research stations across the continent and this period marks the beginning of many of the environmental monitoring programmes. Thankfully many of the stations are still in operation today so that we now have some 50 year records of many meteorological parameters.

The ocean areas around the Antarctic have been investigated far less than the continent itself. Here we are reliant on ship observations that have mostly been made during the summer months. Satellite observations can help in monitoring the surface of the ocean, but not the layers below. Even here quantities such as sea ice extent have only been monitored since the late 1970s, when microwave technology could be flown on satellites.

Pages in this topic

  1. Atmospheric circulation changes in the instrumental period
  2. Temperature changes in the instrumental period
  3. Changes in Antarctic snowfall over the past 50 years
  4. Atmospheric chemistry in the instrumental period
  5. The Southern Ocean in the instrumental period
  6. Antarctic sea ice cover in the instrumental period
  7. The ice sheet in the instrumental period
  8. Changes in Antarctic permafrost over the past 50 years
  9. Long term sea level change in the instrumental period
  10. Marine biology in the instrumental period
  11. The Southern Ocean carbon cycle response to historical climate change
  12. Terrestrial biology in the instrumental period