Important legal notice
   
Contact   |   Search   
RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - May 2005   
Top
 HOME
 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL

Download pdf de en fr


Title  Arctic and Antarctic research: what makes them different?

Apart from a few obvious similarities, including their remoteness and the coldness of their environment, the Arctic and Antarctic possess striking differences which have impacted on the type and importance of the scientific activities being carried out in these regions.

Cemetery of Iqaluitthe, capital city of Nunavut, 6000 inhabitants. This territory is the newest in Canada, created in 1999 after many years of negotiations between the government of Canada and the Inuit of the Nunavut area.
Cemetery of Iqaluitthe, capital city of Nunavut, 6,000 inhabitants. This territory is the newest in Canada, created in 1999 after many years of negotiations between the government of Canada and the Inuit of the Nunavut area.
© P. Visart/Expo-colloque ULB, March 2005
In the South, the Antarctic’s massive ice cap and isolation from the rest of the planet by the Southern Ocean prevented any permanent human settlement prior to the establishment of scientific stations in the early 20th century. Man’s historical semi-absence, by definition, limits the scope of Antarctic research to the classic range of hard sciences, from geophysics to biology, glaciology, oceanography, meteorology and astronomy, to name a few. However, modern transportation has, in part, overcome access difficulties, especially during the Austral summer, when the sea ice shrinks from 15 to 1 million km2.

Human presence in the Arctic
On the other side of the planet, however, the continents surrounding the Arctic Ocean have been temperate enough to harbour indigenous populations for millennia, and more recently the frozen Arctic Ocean was divided between its coastal nations (Iceland, Scandinavia & Greenland, Russia, USA, and Canada). Whilst it does remain remote with permanent sea ice stretching across about 7 million km2, the Arctic Ocean has become an intensively monitored region since the Cold War.

As Olav Orheim, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, explains, "this continuous human presence has brought a historical, economical and sociological context to the Arctic, which in turn has made Arctic science not only much broader through its human dimension, but has also led to a much bigger volume of purely scientific activities". Indeed, military research, oil and mineral prospecting, environmental impact studies, terrestrial biology and fish stock evaluations are examples of fields of research that are much more developed in the Arctic than in the Antarctic.

Numbers are each country’s total Arctic population (in the early 1990s) and orange indicates the proportion of indigenous people.
Numbers are each country’s total Arctic population (in the early 1990s) and orange indicates the proportion of indigenous people.
© Clifford Grabhorn - 2004, ACIA/Map
More recent research in the Antarctic
Paradoxically, the relatively more recent and more limited realm of Antarctic science rapidly evolved to become increasingly international and collaborative. This dimension became fully developed following the International Polar Year of 1957-58 and the ensuing Antarctic Treaty of 1961 and the creation of SCAR (the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research – see SCAR and IASC: getting nations together).

In the Arctic, on the other hand, the end of the Cold War, and the push towards a global understanding of the Earth’s climate in the context of global warming can be cited as amongst the decisive factors leading to the birth in the early nineties of the Arctic Council and IASC (the International Arctic Science Committee – see SCAR and IASC: getting nations together), as well as the increasingly international integration of scientific programmes.

In the future, the Arctic Council will probably evolve towards exerting more political influence, but will never produce something quite resembling the Antarctic Treaty System. Indeed, because of the undisputed sovereignty of the Arctic rim and ocean, there is no necessity to create a new international body.


Printable version

Features 1 2 3
  What's so crucial about polar research?
  The Antarctic Treaty
  Arctic and Antarctic research: what makes them different?



   
  Top
Features 1 2 3

TO FIND OUT MORE

CONTACTS