Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF) – Prof Steven Chown

Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF) – Prof Steven Chown

Prof Steven Chown of SAEF visited South Africa during the month of June. The Antarctic Legacy of South Africa at the Department of Botany and Zoology of Stellenbosch University hosted him for a lunch, talk and future discussions.

The main focus of the talk was that Antarctica is the only continent set aside as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science, with environmental protection mandated through the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The extent to which these legal protections succeed depends on high-quality biodiversity knowledge, for status and trends of indigenous species, and for the same information with respect to Invasive Alien Species (IAS), along with understanding of the pressures on the region. Yet such information is remarkably fragmentary, and its route into the policy environment less than straightforward. In consequence, whether that best available data, information, and knowledge are accessible to decision-makers, practitioners, and the public for the region is a work in progress.

“Antarctica’s Future is a choice. We have not yet made that choice, though seem set on a poor one. Choosing a better one will mean choosing a better life for all of us. Making the Antarctic a regular thought in our daily lives is the way to do so. Antarctica’s Future is Everyone’s Future.” – Prof Steven Chown”


Prof Theresa Wossler, Head of the department, welcomed Prof Chown and introduced him to the attendees. The presentation and talk were attended by eighty-six people in person, who were able to have a chat with Prof Chown afterwards in a coffee break. The talk was streamed online and ninety-six people, representing institutions such as Stellenbosch University, Nelson Mandela University, University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg, University of South Africa, University of Pretoria, the National Research Foundation, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment and from Belgium from the Department of Natural Sciences were able to attend

In the presentation, current progress in resolving the challenges brought by Antarctic change was laid out, including the way in which progress in the Antarctic region may inform and be informed by developments elsewhere. Biodiversity informatics examples that have been applied to questions such as wilderness, non-native species trends, and the likely drivers of biodiversity change are used here to illustrate the power of the approach to inform and improve policy implementation.

Antarctica and its surrounding Southern Ocean are entirely removed from everyday thought. They are remote, isolated, largely unpopulated, and rarely feature in the news. Yet the continent and its surrounding ocean are an intimate part of our daily lives. They regulate the climates we experience and have a large influence on climate extremes.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains 58 m of sea level rise were it to melt entirely. We are already committed to 44-70 cm of global mean sea level rise, meaning that within many lifespans, 1 in 100-year floods will become annual. Sea level rise could be as much as 2 m by 2100. The extra contribution will come from the Antarctic, but we remain uncertain about when we might expect such an addition, and what its exact size will be. Planning for the best has never been a good risk mitigation strategy.

Antarctica is also home to some of the world’s most extraordinary biodiversity. While we may be used to its value in western culture, appreciation for its life has a much longer history with first peoples. Biodiversity is now significantly under threat from changing climates, human activities, and their interaction.

Text from Prof Steven Chown abstract. Images : Antarctic Legacy of South Africa

Published article on deglaciation and peat formation on sub‐Antarctic Marion Island

Published article on deglaciation and peat formation on sub‐Antarctic Marion Island

Twenty‐thousand‐year gap between deglaciation and peat formation on sub‐Antarctic Marion Island attributed to climate and sea level change

Article published  by Werner Nel, Dominic Hodgson, David Hedding, Alex Whittle and Elizabeth Rudolph

Full Article Available Here

Radiocarbon dating of basal peats has been a key factor in determining minimum ages for deglaciation on sub‐Antarctic islands. On Marion Island, peat bogs dominate the landscape below 300m a.s.l., and palynological assessments of peat cores have been used to assess the vegetation history and succession rates as well as the sensitivity of the indigenous flora to climatic change. Initiation of peat on the sub‐Antarctic islands signifies a major landscape change which has previously been linked to the retreat of glaciers. Here we test this hypothesis by comparing previously published and new basal peat ages from Marion Island with cosmogenic isotope dates for deglaciation, and local and regional palaeo‐environmental changes. Results show that, in common with other sub‐Antarctic islands, peat initiation occurred after the Antarctic Cold Reversal (15–13 ka) and through the early Holocene climate optimum. This substantially postdates cosmogenic isotope evidence for deglaciation from the basalts which shows that the areas where the peatlands dominate were ice‐free from the start of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2 (~31 ka). This suggests that environmental conditions controlled peat initiation rather than deglaciation. Regional climatic proxies show that during and after MIS 2, extremely low temperatures, extensive sea ice conditions and depressed sea surface temperatures together with lower sea levels at an island scale could have maintained conditions unfavourable for peat initiation at their current locations. On Marion Island, the significant gap of ~20 000 years between the timing of deglaciation and peat formation indicates that the use of peat basal ages as a proxy for the minimum age of deglaciation in the sub‐Antarctic should be used with extreme caution.

Left( Werner  Nel, David Hedding and Elizabeth Rudolph)

© 2024 The Author(s). Journal of Quaternary Science Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

SANAE63 Newsletter – The Nunatak May 24

SANAE63 Newsletter – The Nunatak May 24

SANAE 63 Overwintering Team first newsletter  now available. Introducing the team members and sharing their memories.



This first edition of the S63 newsletter introduces the team members with highlights of the memorable moments thus far. I hope this edition is fruitful for all our readers. – Tankiso H. Moso, Editor


I remain impressed with everyone’s work ethic. Each person has certainly found his/her stride here at SANAE IV and my overall impression is one of a strong group made up of respectable and mature individuals with a shared identity and purpose whose aim is to hold the legacy of South African National Antarctic Expedition proudly up high. Personally, I am grateful to each and every one of them for making the task of being a Deputy Team Leader a pleasant and gratifying experience for me. I can already see that bonds of friendship are being formed here that will outlive our stay at SANAE IV. – Thulani “Thulz” Ngwaqa, S63 Deputy Team Leader and Base Engineer

MEET THE S63 TEAM – introducing S63 members.

Page through their photo memories

© South African National Antarctic Programme • Managed and administered by Antarctic Legacy of South Africa • Photo Credits