The NZ Antarctic Society recommends expert review of NZ’s science programme in Antarctica


On 24 July our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) launched an on-line survey on behalf of MBIE, DoC, and Antarctica NZ, seeking public comment on NZ’s science programme over the last decade, since 2010.

The 2020-2030 directions and priorities need to be developed and agreed now. To start that process, the NZ Government  sought feedbackfrom the public on its 2010-2020 directions and priorities document on:

  • what worked well,
  • what didn’t work well, and
  • what changes should be made for the 2020-2030 decade.

The NZ Antarctic Society’s Subcommittee for enhancing the Science Focusof our Antarctic research programme responded by the August 16 deadline. Their submission argued that while NZ has developed some widely acknowledged strengths there are also areas that need attention. They concluded the whole programme would benefit from an expert review of past achievements and future prospects to background wider discussions on the new strategy.

Read the NZAS submission in full below:



Antarctic and Southern Ocean Science Priorities and Directions 2010-2020 Review 

– Response from the NZ Antarctic Society Science Focus Group

16 August 2019 


Q1. Where from?  The group is from an NGO, and includes University, CRI and Private Research Institute experience. 

Q2. How have you used the current directions and priorities? If you haven’t, why not?

We have referred to it from time to time as the NZ Government’s strategic statement on the current directions and priorities for the current decade. We have seen it reflected in the annual Statements of Intent, which provide more focus and detail on expectations. It has also been the strategic direction statement for all research proposals requesting science funding from MBIE, as well as a strategic instrument for allocation of Southern Ocean and Ross Sea research funding undertaken by several organisations using the RV Tangaroa.  NZARI was established in 2012 by Antarctica New Zealand to help give effect to the New Zealand Antarctic Science Strategy through the development of high quality, internationally collaborative research programmes focused on Antarctica and Southern Ocean.

Note: Some of us contributed to the document through discussions and presentations to MFAT directly, through Antarctica NZ and through the Royal Society during the consultation process a decade ago.

Q3 and 4. What has worked well and not well under the current directions and priorities?

This is difficult to assess at a national level because there have been no formal science reviews of the whole NZ programme, though we are aware of the world class research undertaken on various components of the strategy led by a number of NZ research groups. The only formal review of the science of any aspect of the NZ Antarctic programme was that of NZARI in 2015 after its first three years. This concluded that results were promising, some aspects needed to be addressed, and a further review should be undertaken three years later. It would have been useful in approaching this review to have access to a summary of achievements for all projects over the last decade clustered by Outcome (see Q7).

Our sense from media and conference reports is that the strong history of research behind Outcome One has continued, with shift in emphasis from data-gathering to modelling. NZ’s science leadership has been at least sustained, and likely enhanced as planned through two of the 5 SCAR research projects on climate history from both ice and sediment coring, along with the recent re-entry of the International Ocean Discovery Program into the Ross Sea region. Delivery on Outcome Two is harder to assess, but we know our collaboration with US colleagues continues in research and management of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. In the case of Outcome Three our leadership in achieving the Ross Sea MPA is an important start to the network of MPAs flagged in the Outcome’s delivery statement.

Another significant achievement is in the work done in translating science into policy through our work within Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. One measure of this is the number of Working Papers NZ submitted to ATCM meetings between 1992 and 2010, averaging 6 per year. This is ahead of Australia and second only to the US (Dudeney & Walton, 2012). For the period from 2009 to 2019, the average was 8 per year. There is also the unique NZ-led achievement for translating Antarctic science to policy, the Environmental Portal, which has been running since 2015.

In the absence of expert reviews we can still get some measure of what has worked by reviewing scientific outputs and outcomes. Basic to this is the record of research publications and citations, as described in the Antarctica NZ 2013-16 Statement of Intent (p.22). However, such a record is a consequence not only of the strategy, but also the management of its implementation. An international review of publication metrics by Gray & Hughes (2017) showed that NZ compared well with other ATCM consultative parties for the period 2011-16, ranking 8 out 30 in number of papers, 15 out of 30 in average citations and top in proportion of Antarctic papers in national science output (just over 1%).

However, trends through time (Barrett, 2019) show a rise in publications and citations for over two decades since the mid-1990s, with publications peaking in 2015 followed by a decline, and citations peaking in 2011 followed by flat-lining. Considering these metrics necessarily lag by several years the implementation of the 2010-2020 strategy by management it’s clear that the combination of strategy and management is currently not working as well as it used to. Nor has the injection of funding and profile through the formation of NZARI evident in this record. We see the need for a deeper analysis to investigate the causes as a critical part of the process in assessing the success of last decadal strategy and formulating one for the coming decade.

Though they seem not to feature in the strategy, publications and activities designed to communicate the significance of the Antarctic region and its global influence to the wider world have a continuing low level presence (~10%).

Dudeney & David Walton concluded their article on leadership and politics in Antarctic science with the following advice: “Although acceptance as a Consultative Party (CP) requires demonstration of a substantial scientific programme, the Treaty has no formal mechanism to review whether a CP continues to meet this criterion. As a first step to addressing this deficiency, we encourage the CPs collectively to resolve to hold regular international peer reviews of their individual science programmes and to make the results available to the other CPs.” The last such review of the whole of NZ’s Antarctic Research Programme was in 2005. A similar assessment of our programme is long overdue.


Gray, A, & Hughes, K. 2016. Demonstration of ‘‘substantial research activity’’ to acquire consultative status under the Antarctic Treaty.  Polar Research, 35, 34061,

Barrett, P.J. 2019. Antarctica and Southern Ocean science: trends in basic metrics from 1990 to 2018. Antarctic Science Conference, Christchurch 18-19 June, 2018.

Dudeny, J. and Walton, D.H.W 2012. Leadership in politics and science within the Antarctic Treaty. Polar Research 2012, 31, 11075, DOI: 10.3402/polar.v31i0.11075

Q5. There have been some major changes related to New Zealand’s Antarctic Science since the last strategy was developed including:

  • Significantly increased global attention on climate change;
  • New bases established in the Ross Sea region by South Korea and China;
  • The establishment of the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area;
  • Increased global interest in the sustainability of Antarctic fisheries;
  • The establishment of the Antarctic Science Platform;
  • Increased focus on incorporating mātauranga Māori into New Zealand research programmes
  • The pending redevelopment of Scott Base.

Can you identify anyotherchanges you think should be taken into consideration for the next iteration of our Antarctic and Southern Ocean directions and priorities, if so please describe them?

We have four points to emphasize.

  • Importance of collaborations within and beyond NZ. These have been a feature of all major projects in the NZ’s Antarctic research since IGY (1956-58), and are maintained by successive generations of researchers in the different fields. International collaborations are actively fostered through SCAR, but need to be recognised and supported by NZ also. We should be seeking to work with other leaders in fields we excel at, but also place some value on nurturing players new to the region.

Collaborations with Korea and China as new neighbours are important, but maintaining links with old neighbours and partners is also essential. Foremost has been the USA – NZ direct collaborative linkages particularly in the physics and chemistry of the Atmosphere (including ozone and related studies), our wide-ranging biological work that contributes to the Taylor Valley Long Term Ecological Research Project, as well as coring through ice and sediment both in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean for past climate. Other important countries have been Italy, Germany, Japan, Australia, UK, and South American countries.

  • Sustainable fisheries and the Ross Sea MPA – we see these as linked and second only to climate change, which will have significant consequences for the region in the next decade. Understanding climate history and processes in the Antarctic region will be crucial to understanding and forecasting responses in the marine biological realm. We see this as a basis for a simpler research strategy (see response to Q7).
  • The strategy of the 7-year Antarctic Science Platform with its simple two fold division into physical and biological sciences, could well provide a template for all NZ Antarctic research for the next decade. We consider it important for the 2020-2030 strategy for NZ’s Antarctic research to cover both Antarctic Science Platform with its established strategy and the 50% of NZ’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean science that is not covered by it.
  • Planning and implementation of the Scott Base Redevelopment over the next ~10 years will take place alongside NZs scientific activities in the coming decade, and the US Antarctic programme also. A well planned, structured and comprehensive consultative process will be crucial to this huge common endeavour by two significant Treaty nations. To date consultation has largely involved currently active users and stake-holders. The NZ Antarctic Society offers an opportunity to consult with experienced older and younger Antarcticans both in NZ and overseas with a wide range of backgrounds and experience.

Q6. Are there any themes, or specific directions or priorities that you think should be included in the next iteration? If so, please describe them along with your rationale for their inclusion.

See response to Q7.

Q7. Do you think any of the changes identified in the previous question should be reflected in the 2020-2030 directions and priorities, if so how might we do so?

The current strategy is divided into three key research outcomes:

  1. Climate, cryosphere, atmosphere and lithosphere
  2. Inland and coastal ecosystems
  3. Marine systems

We suggest the following three different divisions, to take into account the imperative to understand, firstly, the physical consequences of climate change for the Antarctic region, and then the consequences of those physical effects on the biota of the Antarctic region. A third smaller but no less important division is suggested for human interactions with the region in all their forms in order to promote the knowledge and awareness discovered through the physical and biological sciences to the rest of humanity. The percentage of papers published from 2010 to 2018 for each of the three divisions is shown in brackets below:

  1. Physical sciences, including space, atmosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, landscape, coasts and oceans, for the improved past and current state of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region, along with the significance and implications of the role of the region in global change, as well as the implications for the region itself. [44%]
  2. Biological sciences, including inland and coastal and marine ecosystems, including in each realm enhancing knowledge for conservation and protection, and for the marine environment resource management. [46%]
  3. Anthroposphere, for all human interactions with the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region in all their domains and forms – human history, politics, social sciences, arts, and environmental management. This is underpinned by using the full range of media to bring the discoveries and key messages from divisions 1 and 2 to the rest of humanity. [10%]

Q8. Do you have any other comments about our current, or future, Antarctic and Southern Ocean directions and priorities?

We welcome this opportunity to contribute to the discussion on NZ’s future directions and priorities in the Antarctic region and hope that there will be further opportunities for both input and discussion as the strategy document develops. We also hope the advice of Dudeney and Walton on the importance of assessing the success of past strategies will be heeded. We consider a mid-term and an end-of-term review appropriate, with a panel that included both international and NZ experts, as a part of future decadal strategy planning.

 Q9. Leave this field blank if you would prefer to be anonymous


Members of the New Zealand Antarctic Society Science Focus Group:

Margaret Austin, CNZM, CRSNZ, former chair, Christchurch City Council Antarctic Science Working Party

Peter Barrett, NZAM, FRSNZ, Emeritus Professor of Geology, VUW, Patron, NZ Antarctic Society

Robin Falconer, Director, Robin Falconer Associates, former Strategy Manager, GNS Science.

Clive Howard-Williams, FRSNZ, NZAM, Emeritus Principal Scientist, National Institute for Water & Atmosphere, former Vice-President, Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research

Linda Kestle, Associate Professor & Chartered Building Professional, UNITEC, President, NZ Antarctic Society.





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