This chapter highlights several areas of science that will be important in discovery-driven scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the next two decades. As in the previous chapter, this is not an exhaustive list, and each area is represented by an overarching question:
• What can records preserved in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean reveal about past and future climates?
• How has life adapted to stress and changes occurring in Antarctica and Southern Ocean environments?
• What can the Antarctic platform reveal about the interactions between the Earth and the space environment?
• How did the universe begin, what is it made of, and what determines its evolution?
The rocks, sediments, and ice of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean host a trove of information about the past history of Earth. These records have yielded important discoveries about how Earth’s climate has changed in the past. These discoveries have permitted a reconstruction of past climatic conditions and an exploration of their stability and variation across a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. If people are to understand present climate and predict future climate change, then they need to understand how and why climate varied in the past.
These records come from drilling into the rocks, sediments, and ice, as well as from examining the geological features, in Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean. These records reach back to differing points in Earth’s history and contain varying types of information. The fossil records in rocks and sediments show the geographic and historical extent of various organisms. Physical and chemical analyses of sediments, rocks, and organisms retrieved from ocean drilling cores provide additional important records of past climate conditions including ocean temperatures, salinity, circulation, and biological productivity. These cores have been drilled beneath the West and East Antarctic ice sheets, beneath floating ice shelves, and across the continental shelf beneath the Southern Ocean. Ocean sediments are an excellent source of high-resolution, long-duration, spatially distributed paleoclimate information (IODP, 2011).