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Social change affects Antarctic priorities

New research priorities will arise for Antarctic science as a result of climate change and possible tensions between conservation and resource utilization. These priorities are not captured in the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research's Antarctic and Southern Ocean Horizon Scan (see M. C. Kennicutt et al. Nature 512, 23–25; 2014).

Over the next 20 years, the climate debate is likely to shift towards mitigation and adaptation strategies to offset economic, environmental and social impacts. This shift will prioritize efforts to improve forecasts of the most important elements of the scale, nature and consequences of climate change, and will compel research into potentially high-risk adaptation options such as geo-engineering.

By 2034, the Antarctic Treaty System will probably comprise an increased membership, with internal dynamics driven by parties' priorities. There will be more speculation on resource extraction in the lead up to 2048, which is the earliest juncture at which the indefinite ban on mining under the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty can be reviewed. Fuelling speculation about exploitation will be a probable increase in ice-free rock, easier access to Antarctica with reductions in seasonal sea ice, and new technologies and drivers for exploration, extraction and visitation. This trend is already evident in the Arctic.

In the Southern Ocean, an expanding krill fishery responding to a growing human population will test the precautionary management regimes that account for dependent predators such as whales, seals and penguins. Science will need to support sustainable fishery models that integrate the ecological consequences of krill catches with those of climate change.

Adding the social dimension to Kennicutt and colleagues' Horizon Scan in our view reprioritizes some of their pressing questions, as well as raising new and important ones.

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Correspondence to Nick Gales.

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Gales, N., Trathan, P. & Worby, A. Social change affects Antarctic priorities. Nature 513, 487 (2014).

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