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Antarctica:Isolated Continent

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Continents as we know them today emerged as a consequence of the mechanism of plate tectonics, which led to the fragmentation of a super-continent. One such fragment, the Antarctica, now is in the ocean at the South Pole, covered in thick ice-sheets that contrast with its long-past history where it was adorned by forests and inhabited by animals including dinosaurs. It was the natural processes that buried carbon dioxide that led to the glaciation of Antarctica. The burning of fossil fuels is now having an opposite effect, causing the depletion of the ice at a remarkable rate. For humans, Antarctica can be thought of as an isolated continent because no one actually makes a home there. But the continent is not entirely isolated—there is life, including a few thousand scientists and their support staff. And the oceans around are teeming with life with a few species of birds breeding on the continent.

Jane Francis is a geologist by training, with research interests in understanding past climate change. She has undertaken research projects at the universities of Southampton, London, Leeds and Adelaide, using fossil plants to determine the change from greenhouse to icehouse climates in the polar regions over the past 100 million years. She has undertaken over 15 scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica in search of fossil forests.

Jane is Director of the British Antarctic Survey, a research centre of the Natural Environment Research Council (UKRI-NERC). She is involved with international polar organisations, such as the Antarctic Treaty and European Polar Board, and on several advisory boards of national polar programmes.

Jane was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (DCMG) in recognition of services to UK polar science and diplomacy. She was also awarded the Polar Medal by H.M The Queen, and in 2018 became Chancellor of the University of Leeds.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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