Polar News

News from a variety of sources dealing with polar related topics. Many thanks to APECS members for contributing to this shared resources! You can add these articles as a RSS feed in your favorite reader.

How showing off can keep penguin society peaceful

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Norway’s largest live firing exercise takes place today and tomorrow during the Cold Response exercise in Northern Norway.
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A Royal New Zealand Air Force B757 departed McMurdo Station shortly after 6 p.m. on March 6, bringing the 2011-12 summer field season to an end. The winter crew includes 153 people, who will maintain operations through the six months of darkness and cold, until flights resume around mid-August.
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The authorities are investing up to €20 million on the reconstruction of the local passenger port, which will become part of a major facelift of the Murmansk waterfront.
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The world’s largest nuclear powered icebreaker “50 Years of Victory” is on its way back to Murmansk from the Bay of Finland.
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from http://www.conservationmagazine.org

Try again next year. The long-promised recovery of two heavily-exploited Antarctic fish may take several more decades than many scientists hoped. A new survey suggests that marbled and humped rockcod numbers remain in the dregs despite a fishing ban enacted in 1990.

Rockcod fishing in the chilly waters just north of Antarctica hit full swing in the 1960s and 1970s after a crackdown on commercial whale and seal hunting. Rockcod, both marbled (Notothenia rossii) and humped (Gobionotothen gibberifrons), became in-demand food items. In one season, fisherman dragged up an estimated 400,000 tons of marbled rockcod, which often lurk near the bottom of icy fjords in the vicinity of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic. Soon after, their numbers plummeted to less than 5% of 1969 population sizes. An international convention closed rockcod fishing in South Georgia in 1985 and in the nearby South Shetland Islands in 1990.

To see how well the moratoria were working, Enrique Marschoff of the Instituto Antárctico Argentino in Buenos Aires and colleagues analyzed the contents of nets pulled up between 1983 and 2010 off Potter Cove, a small bay on King George Island in the South Shetland chain. The results show fishing’s full toll on the ecosystem. Both species hit lows in the mid- to late1980s, they report. Since then, marbled rockcod began to slowly regain a foothold. Humped rockcod, on the other hand, haven’t crept back, but they also haven’t dropped off further.

Both species, however, have a long way to go, the researchers conclude. It could take an extra 20 years for the fish to experience a full renaissance. And the rockcod’s fate, they argue, provides a good reminder to scientists that it’s important not to hesitate when it comes to the Antarctic: “Close attention using scientific monitoring, as well as basic life history research, is required to exercise effective management.” – Daniel Strain | March 6, 2012

Source: Marschoff ER et al. (2012) Slow recovery of previously depleted demersal fish at the South Shetland Islands, 1983-2010. Fisheries Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.fishres.2012.02.017

By Luca Bracali

When seen from above it looks like an enormous panettone covered in a thick layer of icing sugar.  The truth is that Plåtafjell, this mysterious snow-covered mountain, is hiding something very different.  We are in Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard, a handful of islands 1,200 kilometres from the North Pole inhabited by 2,500 people and about 3,000 polar bears.  Geologically speaking they are unique repositories of  sedimentary resources caused by territorial migration.  About 600 million years ago they were located near the Antarctic, 350 million years ago they  moved over the equator and are now in the Arctic ice cap.

And it is right here, in the boundless realm of ice,  that another treasure chest can be found. It is the Global Seed Vault, the world seed bank which has been here for some years. This enormous Noah’s ark is wedged inside the Plåtafjell and looks like a cement monolith which goes through a 130 metre tunnel excavated in the sandstone and leads to three caverns – the three main chambers of the bank. Two of the chambers are still empty, awaiting new seed duplicates. “Chamber 2” is the beating heart of this inaccessible structure where it is said that not even Bill Gates, Al Gore or the Prince of Norway have been allowed to enter, and at the moment 716,523 seeds are being stored there. This figure is a long way off the total storage capacity which is estimated at 5 million.

But why should the seed vault be here, right at the top of the world? Prof. Roland Van Bothmer, head of public relations of the GSV, explains:  

Svalbard is the perfect place because of its geographic position. The temperature remains below zero and reaches just a few degrees higher in summer and the permafrost, permanently frozen ground, guarantees a good margin of safety even in the event of the cooling system breaking down. In order to preserve the seeds perfectly, the temperature inside the chamber must be forced to 18°C below zero but the permafrost ensures that the temperature remains 5°C below zero under natural conditions. And then there is the further guarantee of political, social and religious stability on these islands belonging to Norway, not to mention the fact that we are 350 metres above sea level and this, in the event of ice melting, prevents other risk factors”.

The Global Seed Vault which was inaugurated on 26th February 2008 has cost the Norwegian government a years work and 50 million crowns (around 6.64 million euro) and  in practice it stores the duplicates of seeds from almost 2,000 genebanks from around the world. It is a substantial investment for a structure that is practically a freezer-safe deposit which acts as back up for the purpose of preserving agriculture in view of climatic changes, as well as many vegetable species which are already in danger of extinction, without taking into account those which unfortunately have already been lost.

Inside this deserted bunker, monitored by a sophisticated security system, there are seeds of plants, vegetables and cereals – from potatoes to beans, corn to peppers.

“There are plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, therefore the majority of seeds are large staple crops but there are no flowering plants” adds Van Bothmer.

The seeds arrive at the airport of Longyearbyen from genetic vaults located all over the world in moisture-free envelopes, wrapped in aluminium foil and closed in airtight boxes. They remain the property of the country from where they come and the sole function of the GSV is to store them safely.

And where does Italy come in? What is its place in the list of 229 countries of origin? Strange as it may seem, there are about 4,000 seed crops of Italian origin. Our country has not directly donated one single seed, for the usual bureaucratic reasons which set us apart from the rest of the world, even those less developed countries. However, from December when Italy joined the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources FAO, something happened and according to the most important Italian expert, Dr. Pignone director of the Food Research Department of the CNR, we will soon become direct donors.

Dr. Pignone pointed out, “With a certain amount of pride I would like to say that in 2011 the CNR was the first Italian organisation to  join the multilateral system with about 30,00 samples of wheat and barley, preserved according to international standards at the Institute of Plant Genetics, CNR, Bari. I believe that this step marks the beginning of a virtuous process which will end with the conferment of copies of the collection to the GSV”.

In the meantime, 25,000 seeds are expected to arrive at Longyearbyen next week. The future of mankind, at least on the Svalbard islands, is guaranteed.

See accompanying pics here: http://blog.panorama.it/hitechescienza/2012/02/24/isole-svalbard-nellarca-che-conserva-tutte-le-specie-vegetali-della-terra-reportage/

Text and photos by Luca Bracali

The Office of Polar Programs (OPP), National Science Foundation (NSF), has released the 2012 Antarctic Solicitation (NSF 12-539) for support of projects in Antarctica during the 2013-2014 field season or projects in the United States beginning in early 2013.

Scientific research and operational support of that research are the principal activities supported by the U.S. Government in Antarctica. The
goals are to expand fundamental knowledge of the region, to foster research on global and regional problems of current scientific
importance, and to use Antarctica as a platform from which to support research. The U.S. Antarctic Program provides support for field work
only when a compelling justification exists for doing the work in Antarctica (i.e., the work can only be done or is best done in
Antarctica). The program also supports Antarctic-related analytical research performed at home organizations.

In response to recommendations by the recent Antarctic Science Committee of Visitors regarding the need to assess field support requirements in an accurate and timely way, and with the goal of streamlining decisions for award or decline, changes have been made to the way that field support information is gathered and the way that some items are budgeted. See the field support section of this solicitation for important information about requesting support. Planners at the support contractor are available to assist investigators with questions about field or logistical support.

Some support information previously included in the solicitation has been moved to a page on the Antarctic Sciences Division's web site. This
information is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/ant/solicitation_resources/prop_prep_info.jsp.

Other important support information can be found on the U.S. Antarctic Program portal (the Information for Proposers page) at:

Full proposal deadline: 31 May 2012.

For additional information, please go to:

Never before have so many tourists visited Northern Norway in winter, with nearly 138 000 overnight stays in January. The main attraction is the Aurora Borealis.
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EU top leaders fly north to resolve the economic crises in southern Europe.
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Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the “Admiral Kuznetsov”, is strengthened with 24 new fighter jets.
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Igor Orlov wants Akhangelsk to develop its “Pomor brand”.
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Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is critical to the lack of information given by the Russian side about the fire in the nuclear submarine “Yekaterinburg” in December 2011.
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Norway, Estonia and Sweden are the countries with largest increase of Russian tourists.
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The Norwegian Government gives NOK 105 million for research on Russia and the High North.
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A powerful coalition of international environmental organisations is today launching a bid to create the world's largest marine protected area - much of it in New Zealand's Ross Sea in Antarctica.

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The fringes of Antarctica are being invaded by alien plants and tiny animals, scientists have found, with the average visitor carrying 9.5 seeds.

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Dr Helen Czerski explains how cold polar air from the north and warmer air from the Tropics push against each other to create the UK's changeable weather and unpredictable winters.

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A brown bear in Alaska was seen scratching its skin with rocks – the first bear definitively known to use a tool

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The first people to settle America may have come from Europe across the Arctic ice, rather than across a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska

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