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Environmental management in Antarctica using geographical information systems



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Harris, Colin Malcolm 


This dissertation examines terrestrial and near-shore marine environmental management problems in Antarctica, emphasising the potential application of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Rules for environmental management in Antarctica have been agreed within the Antarctic Treaty system (ATS) and in the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. However, barriers exist to the implementation of environmental policies: King George Island, South Shetland Islands, where currently 8 countries operate permanent scientific stations, exhibits practical examples of the resulting problems. Designation of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMAs) under the Protocol would improve management in this complex multinational context, but it is concluded these currently lack a standardised set of zones that can be applied to meet management needs. Five types of management zone are therefore proposed to define those areas with special qualities or management needs: Sensitive Areas, Scientific Areas, Tourist Areas, Facilities Areas and Historic Areas. Applying these zones within ASPAs and ASMAs could provide a local and regional planning framework to manage human activities, thus minimising potential environmental impacts and conflicts of interest. Geographical information is vital to ensuring measures are effective. Information required for management of ASP As and ASMAs could be collected, stored and coordinated at national and regional data centres, using GIS where appropriate to handle the spatial data. At an international level, an Antarctic Treaty Data Centre (ATDC) is proposed to receive and coordinate data and directories from participating national and regional centres, to establish a scientific and environmental data system, and to manage the information needed for the operation of the Treaty and its Protocol. This approach would allow environmental information to be held at the local, regional or international level at which it is most needed, and also assist the flow of information among programmes, nations and disciplines. GIS could be employed to assist development of common spatial frameworks, which facilitate the organisation and integration of spatial databases. The GIS-based Antarctic Digital Database appears to provide the coordinated framework needed at scales of 1:250,000 and smaller, but is of insufficient resolution, and does not contain the data required, to meet environmental management (and science) needs at local- regional levels - especially for -environmental assessments and monitoring. More detailed databases need to be constructed, but geographical data needs must be prioritised. The organisational aspects of GIS need to be addressed, such as international standards for spatial data quality and exchange. The ATDC, National and Regional Data Centres proposed could help meet these needs. Conflicting goals and uses in Antarctica need to be managed more deliberately than in the past, and in spite of the improvements in the Protocol, tools for practical implementation of policies at the local and regional levels, and in relation to environmental information management, are still lacking. The model reforms suggested - using GIS to handle environmental information - are designed to address these weaknesses and closely link environmental management and environmental information management and place them at the core of the ATS.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge