Perspective | Published:

Choosing the future of Antarctica

Naturevolume 558pages233241 (2018) | Download Citation


We present two narratives on the future of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, from the perspective of an observer looking back from 2070. In the first scenario, greenhouse gas emissions remained unchecked, the climate continued to warm, and the policy response was ineffective; this had large ramifications in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, with worldwide impacts. In the second scenario, ambitious action was taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to establish policies that reduced anthropogenic pressure on the environment, slowing the rate of change in Antarctica. Choices made in the next decade will determine what trajectory is realized.

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This work arose from a panel of Muse Fellows organised as part of a ‘horizon scan’ by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. We acknowledge the contribution of C. Kennicutt, who conceived and led the horizon scan. We also acknowledge the Tinker Foundation for their support of the Tinker–Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica. J. Matthews and L. Bell drafted the figures. S.R.R. was supported by the Australian Government Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) programme through the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, the National Environmental Science Program, and the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (a partnership between CSIRO and the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Research). S.L.C. was supported by the Australian Antarctic Science Program. M.H.E. was supported by the Australian Research Council. V.M.D. acknowledges support from Institut Paul Emile Victor and Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ASUMA project number ANR-14-CE01-0001). T.R.N. was supported by a New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute grant and a Royal Society of New Zealand James Cook Fellowship. M.J.S. acknowledges support from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the UK Natural Environment Research Council and the British Council. J.C.X. was supported by the Foundation for Science and Technology Investigator programme (IF/00616/2013) and the MARE strategic programme (MARE-UID/MAR/04292/2013). R.M.D. was supported by the NSF under award ICER 1664013, and NASA’s Sea Level Rise Program.

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Nature thanks D. Ainley, K. Dodds and J. Lenaerts for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Author information


  1. CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    • S. R. Rintoul
  2. Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    • S. R. Rintoul
  3. Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    • S. R. Rintoul
  4. School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Victoria, Australia

    • S. L. Chown
  5. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA

    • R. M. DeConto
  6. ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    • M. H. England
  7. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, USA

    • H. A. Fricker
  8. LSCE (IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Université Paris Saclay), Paris, France

    • V. Masson-Delmotte
  9. Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

    • T. R. Naish
  10. Grantham Institute and Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London, London, UK

    • M. J. Siegert
  11. Marine and Environmental Science Centre MARE, Department of Life Sciences, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal

    • J. C. Xavier
  12. British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Cambridge, UK

    • J. C. Xavier


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S.R.R. conceived the retrospective narrative approach as a vehicle to highlight the dependence of the future of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean on choices made today. S.R.R. and S.L.C. wrote the initial draft. S.R.R. coordinated the drafting of the paper and developed the concept for the figures. All authors contributed to the discussion of ideas and the writing of the paper.

Competing interests

S.L.C. is President of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to S. R. Rintoul.

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