Year of selection 2012
Institution Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território
My AXA Research Fund project is focused on the South Shetlands Islands, an archipelago located in the northwestern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is a key region in Earth’s climate system, and these islands are one of the regions in Earth that have experienced a stronger warming signal during the second half of the 20th century (+0.5ºC/decade). During these two years (2013 and 2014) I will continue working in Antarctica on the new fields opened during my 3-year postdoctoral stay in the Antarctic Environments and Climate Change research group of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning of the University of Lisbon (2010-2012), namely, on the activities initiated during the HOLOANTAR project that I am coordinating.
In the ice-free areas of the Maritime Antarctic permafrost controls the terrestrial ecosystem. However, little is known on how permafrost and related geomorphic processes have responded to the warming trend recorded in this archipelago during the last decades. By studying the reaction of permafrost to warmer conditions in the past we may better assess the future impact of climate change on landscape dynamics.
My research is based on two hypotheses:
a) The detection of activity rates, spatial patterns and controls of present-day key-geomorphic processes and permafrost distribution will define their limiting climatic conditions that will be used to interpret the sedimentary record.
b) A multiproxy analysis of the biological, physical and geochemical properties of lake sediments will allow inferring the past environmental evolution – and the role played in it by permafrost and active layer dynamics - and Holocene climate variability in the Maritime Antarctic. Climate changes must have induced modifications on the erosion rates at the slopes, mass movements, active layer thickness, biological activity, etc.
My research will give answers to some uncertainties regarding the dynamics of the natural system in the Maritime Antarctic. We need to frame the recent warming within the natural climate variability of the last millennia in this particularly climate-sensitive region. As part of the duty that the Antarctic scientific community owes to society, researchers should provide new knowledge about its present and past natural climate evolution in order to forecast extreme climate events such as droughts and floods as well as to provide insights about the short-, mid- and long-term Earth climate evolution, in general, and about the recent warming that is affecting the global climate over the last decades. The scientific community needs to generate more data to better understand the negative (catastrophic?) effects that the present-day warming trend may trigger in the Antarctic, and thus in the whole climate system, in order to anticipate and mitigate its consequences as much as possible.
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