What is the Point of Studying the Poles?

We might very well ask ourselves what the point is in making an effort to study the poles. Well, it is important because the North and South Poles are the two coldest climatic regions on Earth, and they affect the climate of the entire planet.

The South Pole is located on a continent covered by an immense icecap. It is completely white and very cold, as is the ocean which surrounds it.

At the North Pole, you will find sea ice and pack ice, which is also white and cold. Hence, they really are the planet's two 'cold sources' influencing the Earth's climate. This fact can be seen as a first reason why we should conduct research in the Polar Regions.

A second reason consists in that the climate is warming up much more quickly at the poles than elsewhere, that is, especially at the North Pole. We need to understand why this is and what impacts this phenomenon will cause.

A third reason making it very important to carry out research in the Polar Regions lies within the two regions' major characteristics, especially in what concerns Antarctica. Antarctica is a unique continent because the temperature there never rises above zero degrees Celsius. Why is this so special? Because when snow falls, it stays on the ground and does not melt. Snow is made up of tiny crystals between which air circulates. As the layers of snow gradually accumulate over time, this air is no longer able to escape and stays trapped in the snow. As the years go by, an accumulation results in the massive icecap covering the Antarctic continent.

This layer of ice is approximately 3500 metres thick and contains air "archives" which date back to one million years ago. This ice moves very slowly towards the coasts of Antarctica. Using modern technology, we are able to drill into the icecap and extract ice cores. We can then cut these ice cores into small pieces and analyse them and determine how old the ice is. Knowing the age of the ice, we can study a particular period of time by releasing the trapped air bubbles we just mentioned. This trapped air contains information about the Earth's past climate.

Why is this so unique and important? It is important because it enables us to verify the natural way in which the climate works and also gain a better understanding of the relationship between the different parts of the atmosphere. For example, we can see how the temperature and CO2 levels are related (CO2 is the main greenhouse gas we hear so much about these days). It also enables us to understand the importance of what is happening today in regards to the rapid rise in temperatures, a phenomenon which has never been so fast.


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