Harnessing the Biosphere to Mitigate Global Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

The planetary ice cover, from Himalayan glaciers to Arctic sea ice, is shrinking at much higher rates than anticipated by climate models, presumably due to feedback processes amplifying the rate of global warming and sea-level rise. All these developments will affect humans in different ways whereby substantial sea-level rise and resultant large-scale population displacement is certainly going to happen; the question is only when and how much time can we buy. In view of the dangers looming on the horizon it is advisable to take steps, not only to prepare for the new realities to come but also to mitigate the rate of warming by curbing emissions and removing as much as possible of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere which is already causing problems. There is no quick and simple solution to CO2 removal, rather, it will be necessary to implement a broad range of measures of which harnessing the biosphere, of both the land (biochar burial) and the ocean (iron fertilisation), hold some promise. There is evidence that fluctuating productivity levels of the Southern Ocean played a major role in sequestering and releasing CO2 during past glacial to interglacial cycles. Increasing productivity of this ocean by fertilising with iron will not have a big effect on atmospheric CO2 levels but the potential uptake is too much to ignore at this stage. In any case, further iron fertilisation experiments will be necessary to explore the pros and cons of harnessing the marine biosphere to slow the rate of sea level rise. The challenge ahead is to reorganise the global economy in a recycling mode as this is the only way to reduce emissions, preserve dwindling resources and mitigate calamitous climate change. The incentive to embark on this momentous task will come from educating the public on the present and future state of the planet. As the oldest continuous civilisation, India has a number of lessons to teach the world on how to lead a sustainable way of life while preserving the environment. To this end, the economic structure of pre-colonial India needs to be systematically researched and the appropriate lessons distilled for promulgation. Popularisation of the Indian vegetarian cuisine is an example of a measure that would reap immediate benefits in terms of human health, emissions reductions and restoration of natural ecosystems. This essay is addressed to the general reader, hence thorough referencing has been sacrificed on the altar of readability.


Cold-loving Bacteria from Antarctic and Arctic: Occurrence, Survival and Usefulness

Psychrophilic or cold loving bacteria are the most predominant type of bacteria, confined to all cold habitats of the world viz. Antarctic and Arctic. These bacteria are unique due to their ability to survive at temperatures below the freezing point of water, as they possess various strategies which facilitate their survival at low temperature. The present review is an attempt to highlight the bacterial diversity of the Antarctic and the Arctic, the biotechnological potential of the cold-loving bacteria and to also understand their survival strategies with an emphasis on the research carried out in India, at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, India.


Temperature Variations at Schirmacher Oasis and Larsemann Hills

India Meteorological Department (IMD) has been participating in the Indian Antarctic Expedition since 1981. Indian Antarctic Station, Maitri (70o 45’ 57” S, 11o 44´ 09˝ E, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) station index no. 89514) was established in 1989 in the Schirmacher Oasis of East Antarctica and meteorological observations are available from 1990 to 2011. The Schirmacher Oasis is one of the smallest East Antarctic oases and is considered to be a typical oases near the shore. Maitri and Russian Antarctic station Novolazarevskaya (70°46´04˝S and 11°49´54˝ E., WMO station index no. 89512), established on January 18, 1961, record the climate of Schirmacher Oasis. Bharati is an upcoming and third research station commissioned by India at Antarctica in an area beside Larsemann Hills at 69°S, 76°E for its third settlement and second active research station. Meteorological data of the Maitri station is available from data base of IMD and Novolazarevskaya is available from data base of Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI). In February 1989, a Chinese National Antarctic Expedition constructed the Zhongshan Meteorology Observatory (69°22´ S, 76°22' E, WMO station index no. 89573) on Larsemann Hill in Prydz Bay on the eastern Antarctic continent. The station records the climate of Larsemann Hills. Meteorological data of the station is available from READER project data base and also from data base of Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences. The variation in mean air temperature and its trends are derived from the meteorological data recorded at the Maitri, Novolazarevskaya and Zhongshan stations from 1990 to 2011. The annual cooling rate at Maitri is similar to that at Novolazarevskaya, about 3 km away. Thus, recent cooling trend is representative of the Schirmacher Oasis region. The annual mean temperature of Zhongshan station has a small rising trend. There are much warmer years with positive departures than colder years with negative departures. It can be said that the meteorological data recorded at these stations are representative of the regions of east coast of Antarctica. The contrary trends reflect the climate change characteristics on a large scale without an apparent warming trend on east Antarctica. The above analysis provides the basic characteristics of temperature change for further application of meteorological data recorded at these Antarctic stations and research into the process of Antarctic climate change and its role in global change.


Investigations of the Recent Polar Ice Variations Observed from the Space-Borne Optical and Microwave Sensors

Polar ice regime plays an important role in the Earth's climate system. It consists of ocean, ice sheet, sea ice, ice shelf, atmosphere and polynyas. Because of the complex feedback mechanism amongst these components, improved knowledge of the physical processes is required for a better understanding of the potential changes in ice mass balance. The changes observed in Polar sea ice extent in the recent past are alarming. The present paper is focused on the changes observed over the Arctic and the Antarctic ice surface, sea-ice as well as ice-shelf, using the data derived from space-borne observations. The recent changes in the sea-ice concentration and ice-shelf melting are discussed in detail. The inter-relationship of sea-ice, sea surface temperature (SST) and ocean productivity and their year-to-year variations have also been discussed. The paper summarises the studies carried out at Space Applications Centre (SAC), Indian Space Research Organisation) for the assessment of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents and surface melting over east-Antarctic ice-shelves, using the space borne data.


Inter-seasonal Variabilities in an Arctic Fjord: The Kongsfjorden System as a Natural Laboratory for Climate Change

This paper presents a brief account of the inter-seasonal variability in the phytoplanktic community composition in the Kongsfjorden, an Arctic fjord. Ecologically, this Fjord represents a border area between the Atlantic and Arctic biogeographical zones. Even though records of oceanographic observations in the Kongsfjorden date back to 1905, a systematic monitoring programme for phytoplankton in conjunction with water exchange processes in the Fjord is yet to be undertaken. Hence, a programme was initiated in 2011 to study the response of the Fjord to the changing scenario in the Arctic. Water samples were collected using a Niskin sampler from predetermined depths along the major axis of the Fjord for estimation of various phytoplanktic pigments. Subsequent to preparation of pigment extracts, the samples were analysed on an Agilent 1200 series HPLC. In mid June (2011), the concentration of chlorophyll a ranged from levels of non detection to 0.5 µg/l while in early and late September the overall range was 0.01-1.3 µg/l. Diagnostic indices for diatoms, flagellates, prokaryotes and various planktic fractions were computed based on standard protocols. In mid June, the microplanktons clearly dominated the population with the diatoms and flagellate populations higher in the Fjord interior. An increase in the nanoplanktic abundance towards the Fjord interior could be attributed to the comparatively lesser concentration of chlorophyll a in the inner Fjord. In mid September, it was observed that the flagellate and prokaryotic factions showed close coupling and probably strongly influenced the Diagnostic Pigment Index. There was a significant rise in the diagnostic pigments index in late September compared to the other two periods and the abundance pattern of diatoms remained inversely related to the flagellate and prokaryotic fraction. Analysis of water column nutrients for this period indicated that the same may not be limiting (data not presented). However, in addition to the phytoplankton composition, the impact of turbidity on euphotic depth could also play a significant role on phytoplankton distribution.


Contrasting Climate Change in the Two Polar Regions

Over the last 50 years surface air temperatures have increased most at high latitudes with the three ‘hotspots’ being in Alaska/northern Canada, Siberia and the Antarctic Peninsula. However, the mechanism responsible for the changes are very different. The Alaskan warming is a result of a jump in the mid-1970s linked to a change in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The higher temperatures across Siberia are a result of stronger westerly winds that have occurred at the North Atlantic Oscillation/Northern Annular Mode has become more positive. In contrast, temperatures across much of the Antarctic have changed little, or cooled a little in recent decades, the exception being the Antarctic Peninsula, which has experienced a large warming. In line with these changes Arctic Sea ice extent has decreased over the last 50 years while the Antarctic sea ice has increased. The Antarctic ozone hole has shielded the continent from much of the impact of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.


Atmospheric Aerosols Studies over Arctic: Initiatives for Long Term Data and Preliminary Results

After the launch of Indian Arctic Expedition and establishment of the Indian station Himadri (78o9'N, 11o9'E; Ny Ålesund, Svalbard) in Year 2007, during the International Polar Year (IPY), there were scattered measurements of atmospheric aerosols by few Indian groups which generated data (only summer months) but planned measurements and long term data were lacking. Keeping all the information and knowledge gaps in the background and taking cue from a month-long campaign-based measurements during the 4th Indian Arctic Expedition, 2010, from Gruvebadet (a place slightly away from Himadri and also away from the town area of Ny Ålesund), a long term measurement programme was formulated and executed during the 5th Indian Arctic Expedition. This involves continuous measurements of distinct aerosol properties round the year from Gruvebadet, with intense measurements during the summer months. Measurements of black carbon (BC) mass concentration, scattering coefficient (σsc) of aerosols are being made continuously while the total mass concentration (MT) of composite aerosols, columnar aerosol optical depth (AOD) and number size distributions (NSD) were made during the summer months. These measurements generated year round data from the Arctic, the first effort of India for any polar region (Arctic and Antarctic). These data have added to the already existing database of the Arctic and at the same time, preliminary analysis provides many new insights. This includes the effect of local activities on the aerosol within boundary layer, giving a weak diurnal variation with daytime high concentrations of BC, AOD, MT, BC and σsc showed a slight decreasing trend from June to August, indicating the pristine nature of Arctic atmosphere during summer.


How Outside Actors Hold Sway within the Arctic Council: Benefits of cooperation and the problems when improving them

The predominant inter-governmental forum the Arctic Council has received a lot of criticism over the recent years. This cooperative forum between the eight Arctic States (the five Nordic States, the United States, Canada and the Russian Federation), region’s indigenous peoples (permanent participants) and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations (observers) has had to feel the heat of climate change. The synthesis reports of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other studies demonstrate that Arctic will warm twice the rate as compared to the rest of the world, with associated dramatic changes related to its environment (e.g. decreasing sea-ice coverage), which will open the region to increasing number of new economic activities (shipping for various purposes, offshore hydrocarbon exploitation etc.). With such dramatic changes, there are many who have called for stronger governance regimes for the region, or at least have provoked many to require changes from the moderately structured Arctic Council—a high-level forum that has no permanent funding scheme, no legal status and no secretariat (for a very long time).

Policy | VOL. 12, ISSUE 70, January-February 2012

Antarctic Treaty System

The Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) is a complex legal instrument that enlists measures in effect and its associated international instruments. Freedom of scientific research is enshrined in the Treaty and hence the ATS promotes free exchange of scientific information and mandates that observations from Antarctic must be made freely available.