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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship 5 Antarctic Governance and Implications for Exploration of Subglacial Aquatic Environments ANTARCTIC TREATY The Antarctic Treaty arose from the success of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957-1958, which had the scientific exploration of the Antarctic as one of its chief objectives. The scientific success of the IGY persuaded the international scientific community to encourage politicians to find a way to ensure that Antarctica remained open for future scientific work by all. The treaty was signed in 1959 by the 12 state parties active in the Antarctic during the IGY and ratified in 1961. It has no termination date and is open to signature by any state with an interest in its objectives. To date, an additional 33 states have acceded to the treaty, and a number of others are observers at the annual meetings prior to making a decision to join. The Antarctic Treaty has two classes of state membership—Consultative Parties and Acceding Parties. The original 12 countries were classed as Consultative Parties, states that had declared a substantive and active interest in the Antarctic and were undertaking continuing scientific research there. Such states form the core of the treaty and determine its development by agreeing to international legislation. They also have a vote at the annual meeting, and since the business proceeds by consensus, disagreement with any proposal by a Consultative Party effectively stops further progress. Acceding Parties agree with the principles of the treaty but are not actively involved in Antarctic work. They have no vote at the treaty meetings but may attend and comment on papers and discussion. In addition to the state parties there are three observers—the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)—and a wide range of experts who have to be formally invited to attend the meeting and whose rights at the meeting are restricted. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCMs) take place every year, normally rotating through the Consultative Parties alphabetically by country name in English. The meetings last two weeks, of which the first week is devoted to a meeting of the advisory Com-
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship mittee for Environmental Protection as well as a legal group, while the second week is devoted to Plenary sessions and parallel meetings of three Working Groups: Operational Matters; Tourism; and Non-governmental Matters, Legal and Institutional. As well as an agreed report from the Plenary the legal outcomes of an ATCM are measures, decisions, and resolutions. The agenda is structured around working papers (in four languages), which can be submitted by Consultative Parties and observers, and information papers, which can be submitted by any parties, observers, or experts. The convention is that all working papers must have substantive discussion while information papers are discussed only by request. Discussions at all official committees of the ATCM must take place with simultaneous translation into English, French, Spanish, and Russian, which have been the four working languages of the Antarctic Treaty since its ratification. Science discussions may take place in any of the working groups of committees, but they are principally restricted to the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) and the Operational Matters Working Group. Subglacial lakes have been on the agendas for both of these groups for several years. Although there may be some overlap in discussions, the demarcation is generally clear, with issues of environmental protection, management, and pollution going to the CEP and reports on the science from the lakes going to the Operational Matters Working Group. Establishment of the CEP was part of the adoption of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991. The protocol systematically reorganized all the previously agreed instruments on the environment and conservation and with its six annexes now provides the most substantive focus for annual discussions at the ATCM. Annex V to the protocol contains the provisions for area protection and management. PLANETARY PROTECTION AND THE OUTER SPACE TREATY A comparison between planetary protection for the solar system and environmental stewardship of Antarctic environments reveals a number of similarities, ranging from the basic governances to their science-driven policies as well as the similar approach to oversight and review of individual projects by designated government institutions. The comparison also reveals some important differences in how revisions are made at the international level. Planetary protection (PP) refers to the name given to the policy of the international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) aimed at preventing biological contamination of other worlds (forward contamination) and avoiding potential contamination of Earth by returned extraterrestrial materials, referred to as back contamination (NASA 1999; COSPAR 2002; Rummel 2006). Planetary protection has been a topic of concern since the earliest years of space exploration and was part of international deliberations for the Outer Space Treaty even before the launch of Sputnik. Initially signed in 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was ratified and has been acceded to by 98 nations over the years. With underlying concepts drawn from the earlier Antarctic Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement of nuclear or other weapons into orbit, forbids the militarization of space, and asserts that the use and exploration of outer space will be guided by cooperation and mutual assistance, used exclusively for peaceful purposes, and done in a way that avoids harmful contamination of celestial bodies and adverse changes in the environ-
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship ment of the Earth (Article IX of the Treaty). The Outer Space Treaty has no termination date and is open to signature by any state with an interest in its objectives. Any state party to the treaty can propose amendments to it, which must be accepted by a majority of the states—unlike the Antarctic Treaty, which requires consensus for every decision. Again unlike the Antarctic Treaty, there is no distinction in the types of parties or member states involved in the Outer Space Treaty, regardless of whether they are actively involved in space exploration and/or launched missions.1 In addition to being centered on a treaty for its framework, planetary protection is interpreted and applied through designated international scientific bodies. In the final analysis, the application of planetary protection is like the Antarctic Treaty in that implementation depends on a political and legal forum in which science plays an advisory role—and the “launching state” is responsible for compliance. Historically, the technical aspects of planetary protection are developed through deliberations by COSPAR, which is part of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and is consultative to the United Nations in this area. In recent years, planetary protection policy for solar system exploration missions has been developed by the member nations of COSPAR through its Panel on Planetary Protection (PPP). The PPP is responsible for developing, maintaining, and promulgating PP knowledge, policy, and plans to avoid harmful biological contamination of other worlds by terrestrial organisms and to avoid the potential contamination of Earth by returned extraterrestrial materials. (NASA 1999; COSPAR 2002; Rummel 2006). The COSPAR PPP accomplishes its work through symposia, workshops, topical meetings, and business meetings at the COSPAR Scientific Assembly held every two years. In this way, the PPP is able to act as an international forum for the discussion and exchange of information related to planetary protection (PP), and to deliberate over implementation concerns or needed revisions in policies based on updated scientific information. Recommendations and decisions arising from PPP meetings are submitted to the COSPAR Bureau for official consideration, with final approval subsequently subject to decisions by the COSPAR Council before they may take effect. In the United States, NASA oversees the application of procedures and guidelines under a policy directive (NASA 1999) aimed at ensuring compliance with COSPAR planetary protection policy. NASA also undertakes regular interaction with the scientific community and may request recommendations on specific issues from the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the U.S. National Research Council (NRC). The NRC is an operating arm of the U.S. National Academies and is the U.S. member institution and adhering body to COSPAR. Due to the accelerating pace of solar system exploration, NASA’s Advisory Council (NAC) also chartered a Planetary Protection Advisory Committee in 2002, (now a NAC subcommittee) for internal advice on planetary protection matters. Table 5.1 provides a direct comparison of key governance and policy features for exploration of both the solar system and Antarctica. Table 5.2 discusses review processes for individual research proposals. The current COSPAR and NASA PP policy uses a classification system for individual projects based on four categories (I-IV), each of which is determined by a combination of both the intended target body and the type of mission and activities planned. 1 A country can be involved in exploration either by launching its own missions or by a research partnership on another country’s mission. The country launching the mission must comply with the PP regulations and ensure that its research partners are in compliance.
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship TABLE 5.1 Comparison of Governance and Policy Solar System Policy and Governance Antarctic Policy and Governance Treaty United Nations Outer Space Treaty (OST), (1967) No meeting provided for since signed. Contamination sections of the treaty effectively managed by a scientific body as a consensus agreement among signatories Antarctic Treaty (1959) Meets every year and manages the continent directly through regulation Overall goals OST Article IX: Signatory states will conduct exploration of planetary bodies “so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter, and where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose” Article 3 of Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty: Parties commit themselves to “protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems and the intrinsic values of Antarctica, including its wilderness and aesthetic values and its value as an area for the conduct of scientific research” Interpreted Major Concerns: Avoid harmful cross-contamination and preserve organic constituent values for scientific exploration; avoid forward and backward contamination (either unintentional or deliberately transported materials), and maintain the integrity of the environment for scientific study in the short and long term for all humankind Interpreted Major Concerns: Encourage good governance, good stewardship, good practices, international cooperation. Minimize conflict based on scientific information; protect resources by good practices; maximize scientific utility of data and encourage exchange of information. In practice, avoid introduction of exotic organisms (forward contamination). Maintain resources for conduct of scientific exploration and other values for humankind Responsible organizations for scientific advice related to policies and practices International: COSPAR via Panel on Planetary Protection (PP), which makes recommendations to COSPAR Council and Bureau International: SCAR SALE (Subglacial Antarctic Lake Exploration), which make recommendations to the Committee for Environmental Protection United States: NASA Planetary Protection Office (PPO) oversees PP policy and implementation within NASA; assigns requirements to solar system missions; has rule- and decision-making authority regarding implementation of PP controls on U.S. missions; updating of policies and controls in consultation with the scientific community United States: National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Polar Programs. NSF Environmental Office manages the U.S.Antarctic Program and administers the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978 and its permit system (Oversees EIA’s and CEE’s for U.S.governmental projects). (NRC is the U.S.member institution in SCAR) NASA obtains internal advice from the NASA Advisory Council/ Subcommittee on PP (formerly PP Advisory Committee); also requests recommendations from the NRC Space Studies Board as needed NASA implements international PP cooperation on joint missions by bilateral agreement with its partners, citing COSPAR policy as governing PP implementation on the mission NSF obtains advice from the scientific community and the NRC Polar Research Board; there is an ongoing management relationship between NSF and the research community based on grant funding
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship Solar System Policy and Governance Antarctic Policy and Governance Current guiding policy The current PP policy is applied through a mission classification system based on five categories determined by a combination of both target body and mission type (Categories I-V). The assigned category level depends on the degree of contamination concern for the celestial body and its importance for future science exploration related to chemical evolution and origin of life. An appendix to the policy includes the specific categories assigned for different bodies, as well as implementation guidelines and specified requirements for individual target bodies including Mars, Europa, and small solar system bodies (COSPAR 2002) Protocol on Environmental Protection (1993) outlines plans, designations, and permits for area protection and management (including creation of designated Antarctic Specially Protected Areas, and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas [ASMAs]) and the minimization of impacts from waste or pollution Test for importance of impact is minor and/or transitory with no definitions of either terms. Microorganisms are only addressed in Annex II article 4 of the protocol to prevent introductions of nonnative species Current PP practices for U.S. missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system incorporate all the revisions to COSPAR policy through 2002. NASA continues to work with COSPAR and the international community to consider whether and how policies and associated implementing regulations should be revised to reflect rapidly changing information about extraterrestrial environments and microbial life Perspective Regarding Microbes: From inception, microbes have been a priority focus of COSPAR policy under the Outer Space Treaty, a perspective likewise shared by implementing bodies and space agencies. NASA’s implementing policy and practices aim at minimizing microbial and organic contamination, adopting appropriate cleanliness levels and microbial reduction methods, utilizing pre-launch microbial assays and verification, and requiring routine documentation of implementation consistent with stated international policy Perspective Regarding Microbes: The focus has largely been on macroscale environmental impacts (e.g., wastes; pollution; introduction of exotic animals, plants, soils, or pathogens; reversible actions). Concerns about microbial contamination (other than by disease) or perturbation of microbial habitats have been little addressed, with a few exceptions (e.g., McMurdo Dry Valleys ASMA) NOTE: CEE = comprehensive environmental evaluation; EIA = environmental impact assessment.
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship TABLE 5.2 Review Processes for Individual Exploration or Research Proposals Solar System Exploration Antarctic Exploration Relevant review processes for individual missions or proposals Assignment of mission to appropriate PP category by Planetary Protection Office (PPO); develop and submit PP plan for mission activities. PP plans and approval required well in advance of mission; approvals and exceptions issued by NASA PP officer Routine pre-project reviews by NSF via EIA (consider activity, resources, and alternates; identify and evaluate potential impacts, mitigation, etc.). EIA documents and NSF approval are required prior to initiation of field activities. NSF may issue approval on its own if impacts are deemed to be minor or transitory As required, missions may also involve other legal or regulatory reviews beyond PP reviews (e.g., presidential review under Presidential Directive-National Security Council-25a for alleged global impacts or use of nuclear materials; environmental impact reviews under NEPA) Impacts Greater than Minor and/or Transitory: CEE and international review and comment by Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties are required prior to initiation of activity Mission information on PP compliance is regularly conveyed to COSPAR and the international community, but no formal international review is required Required components of project plans According to policy, PP plans must include: information on target or mission category; technology and operational plans; specific plans for meeting required cleanliness levels, including use of standard bioload reduction methods, assaying, and monitoring contamination during ATLO; details on recontamination avoidance procedures and plans; archiving of organic inventory and samples; calculations of probability of crashes and quantification of total outbound spacecraft bioload; schedule of documentation and required reports Until recently, the main focus of project reviews has been on macroscale environmental concerns (waste, pollution, introduced vs. native flora and fauna, reversibility of impacts, etc). The typical EIA includes description of activity including purpose, location, duration, and intensity; consideration of alternatives and any impacts (including cumulative ones) likely from activity. In addition, for a CEE, descriptions of initial environmental state, measures and monitoring programs to detect impacts, consideration of effects on science and other values, and an identification of gaps in knowledge are also required. The legislation provides no recommended methods or standards for any activity With respect to projects exploring subglacial aquatic environmental systems, currently there are no standards for cleanliness or monitoring methods; nor is there any required implementation guidance regarding contamination control during staging, operations, or sample collection. There are no specific monitoring or archiving requirements related to microbial contamination. There is no indication of what contamination concerns and controls apply to different stages of exploration or in different locations NOTE: ATLO = assembly, test and launch operations; CEE = comprehensive environmental evaluation; EIA = environmental impact assessment; NEPA = national environmental policy act. aPresidential Directive/National Security Council-25 (December 14, 1977). Scientific or Technological Experiments with Possible Large-Scale Adverse Environmental Effects and Launch of Nuclear Systems into Space.
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship Category V is indicative of an Earth-return mission. Details on historical and current PP COSPAR and NASA policies may be found in a recent NRC report on the forward contamination of Mars (NRC 2006). Specific information on the review of proposed projects under NASA guidelines and management directives may be found on NASA’s planetary protection web site (www.planetaryprotection.nasa.gov). MANAGEMENT GOALS FOR GOOD STEWARDSHIP The Antarctic community, which has seen environmental management rules undergo numerous revisions in policies and requirements over the decades, is now facing the need to address a new science exploration dilemma. What policy, environmental classifications, management scheme, cleanliness levels, and methods should be adopted for the newly discovered and unique subglacial lake and other aquatic environments with its associated ecosystems and how can this be done within the existing legislation? Even though there are some crucial differences in approach, drawing on PP protocols and past experiences in shaping policy may be a useful way to develop a preliminary framework for addressing subglacial aquatic management and contamination control. Ideally, such a framework would link particular concerns and tasks with the appropriate level of the policy or implementation process, as well as identify the relevant responsible groups and utilize their respective expertise. Minimizing Environmental Impacts As part of the environmental principles laid out in Article 3 of the protocol there is a requirement that activities in the Antarctic Treaty area be subject to prior assessment of their possible impacts on the Antarctic environment and on associated and dependent ecosystems. Article 8 amplifies this by setting out three levels of possible impact, based on predicting whether the activity will produce a greater or lesser impact than “minor or transitory,” and Annex I details the procedure that should be followed in determining the impacts, possible mitigation, and necessary monitoring. In short, if the impacts are judged less than minor or transitory, this constitutes a preliminary assessment and the activity can be authorized without further restriction or consultation. If the impacts are judged to be minor and/or transitory, an Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE) is required, which must follow the required procedures but is not subject to international assessment, although the CEP should be notified at its next meeting and the IEE should be available on request. Where the impact is expected to be more than minor and/or transitory then a full Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) is required. This is a major undertaking and uses a two-stage procedure. The first stage is a draft that must be made publicly available and circulated to all parties at least 120 days before the next ATCM. The CEP provides the forum for the discussion of this draft CEE and any comments on it. A final version of the CEE must then be prepared, addressing the comments made, and again circulated to all parties at least 60 days before the commencement of any activity in the Antarctic. As with all activities required under the treaty, the initiative and responsibility both for preparing the CEE and for implementing it rest entirely with the sponsoring party. This procedure applies to all parties, but these are not binding despite the development of detailed procedural guidelines based on Annex I and approved as Resolution 1 by the XXIII ATCM in 1999. There is wide variation in the enthusiasm with which the
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship assessments are undertaken, the independence of the reviewers or authorizing committees (where they exist) in national systems, and crucially, the interpretation of the terms “minor” and “transitory.” Several attempts have been made to reach agreement on how these terms could be applied uniformly, but without success. A survey of practice so far has indicated a general level of agreement for many types of activity but there are clearly significant differences between parties in the decision to determine that an activity requires a CEE rather than an IEE. There has been general agreement that major infrastructure development such as building or rebuilding a station or a permanent runway requires a CEE, and this has been followed by, for example, the United States for the rebuilding of the South Pole, the United Kingdom for the rebuilding of Halley, and Germany for the rebuilding of Neumayer. For scientific work, Germany undertook a CEE in 2000 for deep ice coring and New Zealand provided one in 2003 for Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) sediment coring in the Ross Sea. As far as subglacial lakes are concerned, the Russian Federation introduced a draft CEE in 2002 detailing its proposals to penetrate the lake in due course and provided an IEE later for an interim development to deepen the drill hole in advance of penetration. It seems likely that if the project to drill into Lake Ellsworth is funded the sponsoring parties will require a CEE before drilling is allowed to proceed. Preservation The Antarctic Treaty has made provision since 1964 for the protection of sites. Initially this was to protect scientific interests and such areas were designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest to avoid conflicting uses that could jeopardize the science. It was then recognized that there was also a need to designate sites for conservation objectives. Initially these were designated Specially Protected Areas and were used to conserve key examples of the diversity of habitats found on and around the continent. These two categories were unified as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) in Annex V of the protocol, with their different purposes being distinguished in the details of their management plans. Designation as an ASPA provides mandatory international protection for a site with the management plan, restricting what activities can be undertaken, and a requirement for all parties to report to whom they issued permits for access and for what reason. For sites designated for research purposes this should provide a clear record of activities undertaken by scientists of any party. For sites designated for conservation purposes, it should provide long-term protection from contamination. The geographical basis for the application of the category ASPA in this instance will need further discussion because the recognition of interconnectedness in the subglacial aquatic environment may require the designation of a buffer zone comprising a part or the whole of a watershed in order to ensure that activities higher up the gradient do not inadvertently contaminate the protected area. Annex V provides the methodology by which special protection can be granted for specific areas of the Antarctic. In Article 3 of the annex there is a list of nine categories of area that parties are enjoined to consider. Among these are: areas to be kept inviolate from human interference; representative samples of major terrestrial ecosystems, including glacial and aquatic, and marine ecosystems;
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship areas of particular interest to ongoing or planned scientific research; and areas of outstanding geological, glaciological, or geomorphological features. Although no subglacial lake has so far been proposed as an ASPA, the legislation would allow one or several to be so designated under the categories listed above. Such a proposal could be put forward by any Consultative Party or by SCAR. Managed Scientific Research Exploring subglacial aquatic environments, and especially lakes, is an activity that is expected to begin, and grow, in the coming years. The pursuit of scientific knowledge needs to be balanced against cleanliness, yet it is expected that as technology develops, so will the ability to sample more cleanly and explore these lakes. As a simple rule, exploration of these lakes should always be conducted with the cleanest technology possible. However, the relatively high number of known subglacial lakes affords the possibility of designating lakes for different kinds of exploration, recognizing that one type of investigation may undermine other types of science in that particular lake. For example, remotely operated vehicles or probes could be released into a lake to measure and transmit back physical properties of the lake such as temperature, water current velocities and directions, and salinity. Such probes may not be held to the highest standards of cleanliness that would be required of sampling microbes, probably making the lake unsuitable for microbiology. It is important that lessons learned in exploring a particular lake be transmitted quickly and effectively to the broader scientific community and that all progress in this field be adequately documented for each site. In this way, technology can advance as quickly as possible. Also, the issue of the interconnectedness of lakes, which if high could restrict the exploration strategy or if low would open the exploration strategy, needs to be carefully monitored and updated. CONCLUSIONS In approaching subglacial aquatic research in the immediate short term, the practical imperatives of the Antarctic Treaty—scientific collaboration, logistic cooperation, and the free exchange of data—provide an unrivaled framework for planning and development. There are important scientific goals to achieve in a difficult and expensive operating environment where jointly planned international activities will maximize the value to all humankind while ensuring that the latest technology is available to pursue these objectives. Evidence from deep ice core drilling shows just how effective this approach can be. To ensure that the best possible advice was available to all countries interested in subglacial lakes, SCAR established a Group of Experts (which now has 14 specialist members from nine countries) and publishes its workshop outputs online. Research into the subglacial lakes is now one of the five major programs adopted by SCAR for the next 5-10 years, and details of research proposals are on the SALE (Subglacial Antarctic Lake Exploration) web site at http://salepo.tamu.edu/scar_sale. This web site also provides links to both the International Polar Year (IPY) SALE UNITED (Unified Team for Exploration and Discovery) project, which lists all the proposed subglacial
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Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship aquatic initiatives agreed under IPY, and to the U.S. SALE group, which lists all the interested scientists and engineers in the United States. In deciding how to treat all subglacial aquatic environments in the future, it is prudent to recognize that at least some examples of lakes should be conserved inviolate for future generations. At present, the detailed information that exists about all lakes except Lake Vostok is very limited, and it is both possible and likely that more lakes will be identified in due course in areas of the continent for which very limited or no radio echo-sounding data currently exist. It is beyond the scope of this investigation to suggest how the examples for conservation should be chosen or the extent of the data necessary to characterize them before proposing protection. However, it is reasonable to suppose that research and science using future technology will be better applied to inviolate examples, which puts a premium on selecting the examples for conservation as soon as practicable.
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