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23 April 2014

Antarctic scientists work on 20-year goals

Antarctica has been the focus of a major conference in Queenstown over Easter. Dozens of scientists came together, and for once they were not after answers, but questions. The world's best Antarctic scientists say we cannot ignore the icy continent.

"As we always say, what happens in Antarctica actually has global implications," says American oceanographer Chuck Kennicutt.

Fifty-five scientists from 24 countries have convened in Queenstown for the first-ever Antarctic and Southern Ocean Horizon Scan conference. Their aim was to come up with the most important questions about Antarctica that need to be answered in the next 20 years. Delegates submitted 800 questions, and they were culled to about 100 over the three days of the conference.

"They were questions about how ice sheets relate to sea level, changes in the ocean, changes in the atmosphere and also changes in weather and long-term climate patterns," says Dr Kennicutt.

Scientists say sea level rise caused by Antarctic ice melt is likely to be a major issue for New Zealand. There may be another marine-based problem – increased acidity in the Southern Ocean, which threatens our shellfish stocks.

"To which extent that might be happening is something that for sure we don't know," says marine ecologist Jose Xavier. "But what we are witnessing today and our predictions for the future is that they will have an effect, and probably a negative effect, regarding ocean acidification in New Zealand waters."

That's just one of the questions deemed most important. It's now hoped they can set out to answer them, with a more cohesive direction than they have had in the past.

For more information, including video, see the item on the 3 News website.


Interview: Chuck Kennicutt and Gary Wilson

Just prior to the start of the Horizon Scan Retreat in Queenstown, New Zealand, Lisa Owen of 3 News talks to US oceanographer Chuck Kennicutt and Professor Gary Wilson of NZARI about how climate change is affecting Antarctica and the impact that's having on New Zealand.

To watch the video interview and read the transcript, see the item on the 3 News website.