Antarctica is home to no permanent human towns and the most common settlements, scientific research stations, often house 50 people or less. While Antarctica is the least populated continent, it’s still vital for our understanding of the Earth’s past, present, and future.
Antarctica has been vital for advancing human knowledge, Nils Larsen claimed, and that knowledge has had a huge, direct impact on humanity.
The Ozone Layer doesn’t make as many news headlines now as it did in the past. However, the depletion of the Ozone Layer has led to many chemicals being banned and has shaken up entire industries, such as refrigeration. Nils Larsen notes that we discovered Ozone layer depletion because of Antarctica.
“We first realized that the Ozone layer was being depleted when scientists participating in the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) first realized that something was wrong with the atmosphere. Further research revealed a huge hole in the Ozone Layer,” Nils Larsen pointed out. “If we weren’t studying Antarctica, we may never have realized what was going on.”
While Antarctica is a harsh, windswept place, it’s also in near-pristine condition, at least as far as human-derived influence is concerned. Nils Larsen suggested that many experiments and observations are only possible in Antarctica, owing to its relatively untouched existence.
“Scientists can look at ice cores, measure landscapes, and carry out various other observations and experiments without having to worry about human contamination,” Nils Larsen said. “This allows scientists to work with a relatively controlled environment, at least in terms of human influences.”
Antarctica has also proven vital for our understanding of global warming and climate change. This includes not just current changes in the climate, but also how the climate changed and adapted in the past as well.
“The frozen, untouched expanses of ice can yield data for study,” Nils Larsen stated, “as can the general landscape. Many scientists in Antarctica are working to understand climate change. In time, their discoveries and insights could play a vital role.”
Exploration and research in Antarctica are protected and secured through the December 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which ensures that all research on the continent will be directed towards peaceful endeavors. Nils Larsen believed the importance of this treaty is sometimes overlooked.
“One thing that’s really important about Antarctica is that it’s apolitical,” Nils Larsen argues. “No country controls it. And scientists on the continent may arguably have an easier time setting aside political differences. There’s a certain science-first camaraderie among many of the researchers in Antarctica.”
While humanity may face many challenges in the decades ahead, Antarctica will continue to play a vital role in scientific endeavors and may help empower researchers from across the world. Through common camaraderie, researchers will be better positioned to take on the biggest threats and challenges in the future.