The West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is one of the most climatically sensitive regions on Earth. Despite such sensitivity, we still don’t fully understand the nature of oceanographic change over recent decades on the WAP: the certainty with which we, as scientists, can place on any changes observed is key if we are to have impact on global climate policy.
So on May 17 and 18th, I hosted a Royal Society International Scientific Meeting (sub-titled “In Icy Waters”) to identify the key outstanding questions linking nutrient cycling, physical processes and biological production on the WAP, and how they could be addressed.
The meeting was split into different sessions, with talks and discussions on various cutting-edge aspects of physics, air-sea gas exchange, biogeochemistry, and biology. Although geared each time to suit the specific topic, the same questions arose in each session – in similar guises – from the different participants: What is the nature of oceanographic change on the WAP over recent decades? What are the time and spatial scales needed to detect significant change, and the area over which change occurs? Are our study sites representative of the WAP? How much can we extrapolate what we observe?
We heard about some exciting new technologies that are being used to gather data at a very high resolution, and at difficult times of year – getting data on seawater is tricky in the depths of winter when there’s a layer of sea-ice on top! Yet it is in winter and early spring that the most crucial processes occur, and where our data are most lacking. New developments in the use of automated gliders will really help here: hotspots of biological activity can even be “surfed” by gliders for several days, whilst collecting continuous oceanographic data. We’re also using new geochemical methods to pick apart some of these processes, to put a number on – for example – the amount of freshwater being dumped in the oceans by melting glaciers.
This meeting followed on from a previous workshop hosted at the British Antarctic Survey (co-sponsored by the Southern Ocean Observing System, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, and the Natural Environment Research Council NERC-ORCHESTRA), which aimed to assess a broader community view on the key gaps and challenges in WAP oceanographic research.
These two meetings brought the community together, and gave us a fantastic opportunity to plan broader scale approaches to studying the region of the WAP, but also plan together future proposals and papers more in a smaller – more targeted – group.
Chicheley Hall itself was a fantastic venue, which really inspired discussions and new ideas. As well as the fine buildings and grounds, the peacocks were definitely a hit with the visitors – although I think a couple of them suffered a small amount by being woken up by the birds’ somewhat ostentatious squawks!
Many thanks to the Royal Society for making this possible.