Not many people get the opportunity to travel to Antarctica and so when I was given the opportunity by polar explorer Robert Swan, I jumped at the chance. Robert Swan's mission is to let the world know how important Antarctica is and what we need to do to preserve it. He started an organization called 2041.com to preserve the last great wilderness the planet has. The year 2041 is the date the world treaty for Antarctic expires.
Although many nations lay claim to parts of Antarctica there is no government here other than an agreement reached from the treaty known as the Madrid Protocol enacted in 1991. It means there can be no petroleum or mineral exploration and no hotels or ski slopes for tourism. As of now Antarctica belongs to no one and it belongs to everyone. No place on earth can claim this.
What's in it for all of humanity? Why not drill? The answer is actually quite simple.We know that water is going to become a precious commodity and what most people do not know is that seventy percent of the world's fresh water and ninety percent oft he world's ice is in the glaciers in Antarctica. It is our bank, our legacy to future generations. If we mess up that legacy by building hotels, drilling and mining we potentially mess up one of the most important resources to sustain human life there is. If that ice melts due to climate change we have lost our ability to keep that water resource.
Because of my great love for penguins I became interested in their lifecycle.What jolted me was how fragile the ecosystem is. When whaling was not such an international issue hunting them was all too commonplace. The whale population diminished and so did penguins. Why? Whale waste acts like fertilizer and provides a rich environment to the sea. The plankton flourish when there area is "fertilized."The plankton are eaten by the krill ( a small shrimp type animal) and the krill get eaten by the penguins. The leopard seals eat the penguins and the whales eat the seals. You take one element out and as Robert Swan says "there is a cascading effect." It used to snow and not rain, but due to climate change there is rain in Antarctica flooding rookeries and even giving some penguins hypothermia.
There have been other effects as well. I saw in"iceberg ally" the huge tabular iceberg form the Larson Bice shelf just floating in the water. It broke off from Larson B and now is stuck. It is so huge that the non visible bottom sits on the sea floor bottom. That glacier is just one of many that hold the precious resource of fresh water. It should be on the glacier but now it is stuck in the sea.
Some of the changes are not visible such as the "acidification" of the Southern Ocean. According to the Antarctic Climate Change and Environment Report (ACCE). This acidification has happened by the absorption of Carbon Dioxide and if the carbon footprint is not lowered there is going to be an effect on important species such as planktonic snails which will dissolve.
My conservative friends say that this global warming is a natural trend and is not man made. It is true that Antarctica has been subject to the ups and downs of natural climate change. However, with the current ice studies there has been an unprecedented ice shelf loss.
I have been traveling on this trip with Canadian geo-scientist and science journalist, Susan R. Eaton, who said,"the reason we go to Antarctica is to study climate change because it offers a hands on out door laboratory." She continued "The Western Antarctic Peninsula has warmed 2.8 Celsius degrees in the last fifty years, more than any place on earth. Antarctica is the climate change agent on the planet."
How does this happen?
Carbon enters the sea, warms up the water, changes the wind patterns due to the warming. Even a small melting can cause sea levels to rise making many costal cities around the world uninhabitable.
Although there are no tress in Antarctica they are important to life on and around the Antarctic. Trees are the lungs of the planet. Their trunks store excess carbon. Cut down the trees in the Amazon and the carbon storage decreases, warming up the planet and melting the ice in Antarctica.
We call can do something to prevent this. Use less carbon and plant more trees. That will not only save the inhabited parts of our planet, it will save the last great wilderness -- Antarctica -- a place that belongs to all of us.
Ellen Ratner is a Fox News contributor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talk Radio News Service.
Ellen Ratner joined FOX News Channel as a contributor in October 1997.