National / Science & Health

Japan's 58th Showa Station team studies global warming in the Antarctic

Kyodo, Staff Report

Some 14,000 km from Japan, a 33-member team is researching a wide range of issues on global warming at Showa Station, Japan’s Antarctic research center.

A key pursuit in the research is how global warming is affecting the continent, premised on the notion that rising sea temperatures may be causing glaciers to melt faster.

Takeshi Tamura, an associate professor of polar oceanography at the National Institute of Polar Research, said warmer seas may have flowed underneath the glacier in Antarctica’s Lutzow-Holm Bay, causing it to melt faster. This in turn could cause global sea levels to rise, said the 37-year-old Tamura, who heads the research.

When the team checked the sea temperature at 900 meters underwater in the bay, it found it was above zero degrees Celsius.

Normally, Lutzow-Holm Bay is covered with layers of ice. But last April, most of the ice had flowed offshore, allowing the icebreaker Shirase to enter the bay and check sea temperatures.

The team also plans to check sea temperatures and ice thickness in other parts of the bay.

Japan’s Antarctic researchers have made significant discoveries on global warming in the past, most notably the ozone hole in the early 1980s.

“Even if satellite technologies advance, it is necessary for team members to monitor (the environment) on the ground,” said Kazuyuki Shiraishi, who heads NIPR.

On Jan. 29, 1957, the first batch of researchers arrived at Antarctica’s Ongul Island after sailing from Tokyo for more than two months. Part of the team stayed for a year until the next group arrived. The current team is the 58th.

Life in the South Pole offers plentiful natural beauty. The sun never sets between late November and late January, with the midnight sun phenomenon a feature of summer life at the lowest latitudes.

Midsummer is when native animals give birth. Adelie penguins, after spending the winter on sea ice, travel a great distance to raise their young in colonies along the continent’s coast. Snow petrels and seals also take up residence.

With the sun beating down on the white expanses around the clock, a notice has been put up at the station, warning team members to ensure they keep track of time to avoid putting in excessive work hours.

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