Over the New Year period, Matthew visited the British Antarctic Survey Base at Rothera in Antarctica.
The visit was part of the Environmental Audit Select Committee’s inquiry into the British Government’s policy for the region.
The delegation took passage by steaming through the ice on the RRS Sir David Attenborough, one of the most advanced polar vessels in the world. The commissioning of the ship was part of a major Government investment in polar infrastructure which will keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic.
In addition to the facilities for scientists onboard the ship, Matthew toured the Research Station and observed the infrastructure modernisation programme, met with scientists and witnessed science being conducted. The UK has been a world leader in polar exploration and research for over a century and the study of these remote regions is crucial in helping scientists understand changes in our planet’s oceans, marine life and climate system.
Climate change is the most apparent issue in the region resulting in melting ice, warming oceans and changes in fish and wildlife as a result.
Of additional importance is the UK’s presence in Antarctica - from a geopolitical standpoint. China has at least five bases alongside those from Argentina, Chile, Australia, India and the US. The presence of so many nations ensures that the governance arrangements via the Antarctic Treaty System and the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources ensure it remains a location of peaceful scientific enquiry which the Treaty envisages.
Matthew said “We have witnessed the reality of climate change - vast icebergs filling the ocean having broken away from glaciers; the further threat of Avian flu which has already resulted in widespread deaths amongst the fur seal population; the consequences of untrammelled krill fishing - particularly for the region’s wildlife; and the retreating glaciers, many of which may well be thousands of years old whose melting will have huge consequences for ocean levels in the Northern Hemisphere.”