Published by the American Geophysical Union as part of the Antarctic Research Series, Volume 60.
The Antarctic continent and the surrounding Southern Ocean represent one of the major climate engines of the Earth: coupled components critical in the Earth's environmental system. The contributions in this volume help with the understanding of the long-term evolution of Antarctica's environment and biota. The aim of this and the preceding companion volume is to help place the modern system within a historical context.
The environment and biosphere of the Antarctic region have undergone dynamic changes through geologic time. These, in turn, have played a key role in long-term global paleoenvironmental evolution. The development of the Southern Ocean itself, resulting from plate tectonism, created first-order changes in the circulation of the global ocean, in turn affecting meridional heat transport and hence global climates. Biospheric changes responded to the changing oceanic climatic states. Comprehension of the climatic and oceano-graphic processes that have operated at various times in Antarctica's history is crucial to the understanding of the present-day global environmental system. This knowledge will become increasingly important in parallel with concerns about anthropogenically caused global change. How vulnerable is the Antarctic region, especially its ice sheets, to global warming? The question is not parochial, given the potential of sea level change resulting from any Antarctic cryospheric development. Conversely, how much of a role does the Antarctic region, this giant icebox, play in moderating global, including sea level, change?