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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship
Exploration will continue to be subject to formal peer review through the Antarctic Treaty protocols (notably the Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation process), as soon as adequate survey data have been gathered to provide a sound basis for description, and to include comment by SCAR where appropriate. Stewardship for the future is best addressed by establishing a dynamic multinational approach and specific scientific archive that preserves and quantifies pertinent information associated with current scientific research, nationally and internationally (Recommendations 5, 11, 12, 13). Data archiving should include detailed information about drilling components, such as the microbial content of drilling fluids and any material components that may influence future research. The establishment of a microbial archive may become an important new initiative as surface and core microbial populations are sequenced and where possible, identified.
The exploration of subglacial aquatic environments is in its initial stages, with fundamental questions remaining to be answered about these unique environments. Much debate and speculation have occurred based on the limited data available; no definitive answers will be forthcoming until these environments are sampled directly. The existence of these environments on the Antarctic continent makes them a part of the common heritage of all humankind. Accordingly, the management of subglacial aquatic environments requires responsible environmental stewardship while allowing field research in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty. Although this study is being produced by a U.S. scientific advisory body and the National Science Foundation requested the study to guide scientific programs originating in the United States, the committee hopes that its multinational makeup will be recognized and that the recommendations in this report will serve as a basis for broad international discussion about environmental stewardship for the exploration of subglacial aquatic environments.