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Antarctica, Ozone and Change: some links between environmental concerns

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Note new start time of 6.00pm

This lecture introduces life in the Antarctic, and follows this by focussing on two global environmental issues, which are of particular significance in Antarctica. Other symptoms of global and local change are then introduced and an underlying cause discussed.

The British Antarctic Survey is responsible for implementing British policy in the Antarctic. Run from its Cambridge headquarters, it has two year-round Antarctic stations, two summer-only stations, numerous field camps and runs two ships and five aircraft. The scientific studies cover all aspects of research in the Antarctic, ranging from earth sciences (mapping, geology, geophysics), physical sciences (meteorology, glaciology, chemistry and upper atmospheric physics) and life sciences (marine, terrestrial and human). Scientists may visit the Antarctic for a short summer stay, or spend up to eighteen months collecting data. In addition to the scientists, support staff are required to maintain the smooth day to day running of the stations.

Two global environmental issues are particularly associated with the Antarctic: global climate change and the ozone hole. The popular perception is that the polar ice caps are melting and that low-lying areas around the globe will be flooded. The truth is less clear cut, but this may eventually happen. Antarctic ice-cores tell us what our past climate has been like, and give us clues to what may happen in the future. There are natural cycles of climatic change in the Antarctic, but we are affecting the continent and will increasingly do so in the future.

The Antarctic ozone hole was discovered by British Antarctic Survey scientists and is a graphic demonstration of how easy it is to change our planet’s atmosphere. I will explain why the ozone hole forms over Antarctica and the precautions that we need to take. There is often confusion between the ozone hole and global warming, although there are also complex links between them. Through the Montreal Protocol we have taken steps to address ozone depletion and these are working.

There are many other environmental issues affecting our planet, but all too often each is taken in isolation. This inevitably means that other symptoms will surface, perhaps more damaging than those currently being treated. Unless we debate and then take steps to resolve the underlying cause of all the symptoms, we may find that our planet is unable to support us.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Philosophical Society series.

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