The polar regions have gained the attention of scientists and the general public alike, especially since explorers first visited these remote and inhospitable places, characterized by the most extreme climatic conditions on Earth, and reported their fascination about them. Scientific research, in the modern sense, however, started little more than one hundred years ago, with Fridtjof Nansen’s seminal Fram expedition to the Arctic Ocean (1893–1896). The early studies that followed the “heroic phase” of the exploration of the polar regions addressed a wide variety of topics, ranging from broad landscape descriptions to very detailed analyses of individual species, adaptations, or metabolic pathways. Much work was done on ecological aspects of the polar environments and their differentiation into geographical and biotic regions. The exploitation of the surprisingly great wealth of natural resources the polar regions house, such as the rich whale populations and, later, the abundant Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean, were an important driving force behind many ecological investigations. In the recent past, the study of the impacts of climate change, which are particularly severe in both polar regions, came increasingly into focus of researchers. Scientific fieldwork in polar regions is difficult and costly, and since the early days, ecological research has largely been conducted within the framework of multidisciplinary, often international projects. Over the last three decades, international cooperation in polar research has greatly increased, most often under the wings of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).
Article. 8300 words.
Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences
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