The world’s largest remaining wilderness largely untouched by human interference, Antarctica has been seen by many as an elusive continent down under, composed of not more than sheets of ice. This imagination of the Antarctic, however, neglects both the significance the mass of ice holds in the world’s stability, as well as the environmental changes that are rapidly transforming the region. The changing face of the Antarctic Antarctica and the seas that surround it have been, for long, subject to a plethora of forces, changing the environment more quickly than had been predicted. The most immediate threats to the continent include regional warming, ocean acidification, loss of sea ice and growing human interference, all linked, directly or indirectly, to rising levels of carbon dioxide across the globe. In addition to the often-studied threat of global warming, other forces are at work in Antarctica, ripping apart the ecosystem and its gears. Trawlers from countries all over are hauling out krill from the seas of Antarctica, the principal feed of most animals on the continent. In parts of Antarctica, changing climate patterns, lack of food and human interference have led to crashes in penguin population by 90 percent. The mark of climate change in the region is unmistakable. Along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, 87% of glaciers have retreated in the last fifty years, accelerated mainly in the last twelve years. An area key to this change is the Thwaites Glacier. This glacier, situated in the warmer parts of the Amundsen Sea, acts as an ice dam of sorts, protecting the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behind it from warm conditions. The retreat of Thwaites is a worrying sign, for its collapse alone could lead to a four feet rise in global sea levels. Coupled with the collapse of other sheets and glaciers that it protected earlier, the world stares at a 14-17 feet rise in sea levels from this region alone. The results could be catastrophic. Scientists believe that by all indications, the world has already committed itself to a rise in global sea levels by three metres or more over the coming centuries. Significant increase in human interference in the region also points to a dangerous rise in anthropogenic pollution. The rise in levels of toxins and substances like lead in Australia have resulted in corresponding increases over Antarctica. Oil spills, too, pose a major threat in the region. The effects of an oil spill are particularly devastating in cold countries, where the oil globules are retained in ice for much longer periods of time. The effects of the infamous Antarctic Oil Spill of 1989, for instance, lingered long after, with some holding the belief that they still do. Caused by an Argentine vessel dispersing over 6,00,000 litres of oil in the sea around Antarctica, this resulted in a 16% drop in the population of Adelie penguins, a 100% mortality rate of Cormorant chicks, and in years following the spill, an 85% decrease in Cormorant nests. Though on the surface these appear as changes in numbers of species, such fluctuations of population have more lasting effects on the larger environment that are difficult to quantify. Future Possibilities Nine award winning scientists have proposed two scenarios on how the continent would look in 2070 - one bleak, the other promising. The paper is largely speculative, prompting a data driven conversation rather than making concrete forecasts. It is difficult to tell what the future holds, many scientists believe, with things changing so rapidly in the region. The first scenario, in a situation where nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions, projects the disappearance of about quarter the volume of sea ice by 2070. The sea level rise that could follow, of about half a metre, would be irreversible and disastrous along coasts. Ocean waters could become corrosive, increased number of isolated icebergs could be an impediment to shipping, fish stocks could decline, and penguin populations could crash. Another scenario, more optimistic, is based on the belief that pollution would be made a priority and greenhouse gas emissions would be actively limited. This scenario proposes not a halt, but a deceleration of the rate at which ice is thinning. Populations of species would still see declines, as would levels of sea ice, but the frequency of extreme events would be reduced. Today, the Antarctic is governed under a system of treaties which regulate research and tourism. Among these is the Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty, often called the Madrid Protocol. This treaty only allows visitors to the continent from member nations, only when granted permits, subject to adherence of certain guidelines. Other measures include the protection of native Antarctic animals from capture, establishment of protected areas, minimum interference in natural conditions, prohibition of mining and discharge of waste. Fisheries are controlled by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, though many call for a total ban on fishing as the only solution. Such measures, however, restrict change to Antarctica alone. It is telling that 660 tons of lead made their way to Antarctica even before any human laid foot on the continent, coinciding with the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Wind currents and Polar Stratospheric Clouds have caused the biggest hole in the ozone layer to form over the Antarctic, though there is little to no emission of ozone depleting substances over the continent. Measures to curb the devastating impact It is clear that Antarctica cannot be saved by acting within the continent alone. Saving Antarctica is not independent from saving the world from the bigger issues of global warming - neither in cause, nor in consequence. Stricter protocols need to be set world over, use of fossil fuels needs to be restricted and the Antarctic Treaties on environment should marry into broader, internationally applicable regulations on climate. In the absence of such decisive change, the grave scenario of lesser and lesser, perhaps even no ice sheets blanketing the South Pole looks more likely every day.