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Science and Stewardship in the Antarctic Executive Summary From the observations and reportings by the first expeditions to the subantarctic regions to the more intricately-planned ventures of the first half of the 20th century, scientific investigations have had a central role in antarctic activities. In this century, and even to the time of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, most of the scientific work was related rather directly to the continent itself and its surroundings—to descriptions of the observations made as the various expeditions traversed and mapped specific regions. These descriptions were done painstakingly, demonstrating dedication and objectivity on the part of investigators and explorers. Most observations included not only the obvious (e.g., snow and ice cover, indigenous life forms, and weather), but also the less obvious, such as cosmic ray and geomagnetic field measurements (the latter was of considerable practical importance for navigation). These early investigations were invaluable as they provided ever-increasingly complete descriptions of a major part of Earth that had truly been terra incognita. In the decades since the signing of the Treaty, and with the advent of aerial and space surveillance and measurement techniques as well as ever more sophisticated ocean-and ground-based instrumentation, the science associated with the Antarctic has slowly evolved in character, scope, and global significance. At the same time, interest in the Antarctic as a destination for tourists has increased greatly. The number of tourists to the continent (most of whom still largely go by cruise ship and visit the peninsula area) has been continuing to climb, while the number of scientific and logistic support personnel is remaining almost constant. Not only has antarctic research become more globally directed because of scientific and societal imperatives, but the role of the polar regions, and especially the Antarctic, in global environmental concerns has increasingly come to the attention of the public at large. A convergence of interests has developed among scientific researchers, environmental groups, and the general
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Science and Stewardship in the Antarctic public that looks toward a responsible stewardship of the vast antarctic land mass and its surrounding oceans. The enactment of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, in 1991, provides both opportunities and challenges for antarctic science. The growth in tourism also presents challenges to the conduct of science and to the environmental conditions of the continent. In view of these developments, the U.S. Department of State requested that the National Research Council (NRC) carry out a study of the impacts that policy decisions involved in implementing the Protocol and regulating tourism might have on the conduct of science in the Antarctic. The NRC convened a committee of 12 individuals knowledgeable in science, engineering, environmental policy, international and environmental law, and tourism to study the issues facing antarctic science in the future. Antarctica is a remote place, difficult to work in or visit even with today's technologies. The goal of the Environmental Protocol is to protect the antarctic environment. At the same time, the Antarctic Treaty provides, and the Protocol specifically recognizes, that the primary purpose of human presence on the continent is to conduct scientific research. Consequently, the legislation and regulations entailed by implementation of the Protocol must reflect these two goals in a balanced, integrated manner. This can best be achieved by legislation that provides a process for decisionmaking rather than strict rules of conduct. Therefore, the Committee recommends: (1) As a guiding principle, implementing legislation and regulations should provide a process based on appropriate substantive requirements, such as those in Article 3 of the Environmental Protocol, rather than a prescription for meeting the requirements of the Protocol. The process should be balanced so as to provide flexibility as well as clarity for meeting requirements. An important international entity established in the Protocol is the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP). This Committee, whose precise functions and advisory responsibilities remain to be established, would be composed of members from all nations adhering to the Antarctic Treaty. In view of the significant role that this body will play in antarctic matters, the Committee recommends: (2) The United States should encourage the CEP to establish a formal science advisory structure for itself, which would include representatives of all interested parties. The nation should select a representative to the CEP who has both technical and policy credentials, and should establish a national process for providing scientific and environmental advice to the CEP representative.
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Science and Stewardship in the Antarctic Monitoring of environmental parameters is certain to increase as a result of implementation of the Protocol. This prospect has raised concerns that not enough attention has yet been paid to the pitfalls inherent in designing effective monitoring programs. Monitoring activities can be too narrow in scope or (and perhaps worse) too broad and misdirected. Such failings are often caused in large part by lack of a sound scientific basis for program design, or a clear focus on important governance issues or both. The United States is but one of many countries active in Antarctica; thus, U.S. monitoring should take into account the complex context of national and international governance issues. Therefore, the Committee recommends: (3) Monitoring activities—both those under way and additional ones that will be needed to comply fully with the Protocol—should be directed to answer important national and international governance questions, and designed and conducted on the basis of sound scientific information with independent merit review. Antarctic research is relatively resource-intensive because of the required logistic support (e.g., ships, planes, personnel). Implementation of the Protocol will inevitably bring additional costs—for remediation, monitoring, and meeting new requirements for environmental protection that may require more logistic support. The Committee, therefore, recommends: (4) Where more efficient operational modes can be identified, they should be implemented quickly and the savings applied to the conduct of science and to meeting the needs of the Protocol. The management of antarctic science and environmental matters has crucial long-term implications for both stewardship and the conduct of research on and around the continent. The assignment of responsibilities for carrying out the new requirements is of great importance, as legislation is considered that will guide the United States in implementing the Protocol. The Committee believes that the National Science Foundation should be kept at the center of antarctic science and its specific governance, while taking greater advantage of the expertise of other agencies and sharing the burden of overall program management. At the same time, the Committee proposes a process that would subject the major logistical and operational functions of the antarctic program to greater scrutiny. This process should help to ensure that decisions on the national commitment and presence that major operational facilities represent will receive the appropriate level of review and oversight. To enhance both science and stewardship of U.S. activities in the Antarctic, the Committee makes the following recommendations:
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Science and Stewardship in the Antarctic (5a) The existing management relationship between the National Science Foundation and the research community should be essentially unchanged. That is, the current pattern of submittal of proposed research projects and their approval, funding, and oversight, should remain intact, modified only as new scientific and environmental requirements might suggest. (5b) The National Science Foundation should be granted primary rule making authority necessary to implement the Protocol; however, when that authority involves matters for which other federal agencies have significant and relevant technical expertise (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency for solid and liquid waste), the concurrence of those agencies must be sought and granted in a timely manner before a regulation is issued for public comment. The implementing legislation should identify, to the extent feasible, the specific instances and agencies where this would be the case. (5c) Decisions required under the implementing legislation and related compliance activities regarding major support facilities should reside with the federal agency that would normally make such decisions in the United States. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency would grant a permit to the National Science Foundation for a wastewater treatment facility and would conduct periodic inspections. (5d) A special group should be established to provide general oversight and review of: proposals on the concept, location, design, etc., of major U.S. facilities, or significant alterations to existing facilities in Antarctica; environmental monitoring activities; and National Science Foundation program actions to ensure compliance by U.S. personnel (i.e., scientists and others supported by the government) as required by the Protocol and implementing legislation. Because of a number of factors, including the proposal preparation, submission, and review process and the limited time window for access to the continent, the path for conducting research in Antarctica is long. The Protocol specifies that only those projects requiring a Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) must be communicated to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties for consideration at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. For those projects determined to have only a minor or transitory impact (i.e., those projects requiring an Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE)), the Committee recommends:
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Science and Stewardship in the Antarctic (6) Legislation implementing the Protocol should not impose additional delays in the approval of scientific projects determined to have no more than a minor or transitory impact on the antarctic environment. From the beginning of the Antarctic Treaty System, transparency (i.e., the openness of the process to the public and other interested parties) has been an important component of the system's governance. The Committee, therefore, recommends: (7) Legislation implementing the Protocol should contain opportunities for public involvement similar to those routinely established in domestic environmental and resource management legislation. A major challenge for science and for stewardship in the Antarctic as the Protocol is enacted and enabled by the Treaty Parties is to obtain a baseline assessment of the present state of environmental affairs throughout the global region above 60 degrees south latitude. Therefore, the Committee recommends: (8) The U.S. representative to the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) should encourage the CEP to organize and undertake periodically an international scientific assessment of the state of scientific understanding of environmental problems and challenges in the Antarctic.
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