HAVANT MP David Willetts has spoken about his incredible trip to Antarctica, a place he calls ‘the last great wilderness’ and ‘an extraordinary natural laboratory’.
The Tory visited the continent in his role as science minister to see the work of the British Antarctic Survey base at Rothera, from where scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer and are now undertaking vital work on climate change.
Mr Willetts spent two days with scientists, experiencing first-hand their experiments, including analysing ice cores up to 600,000 years old which reveal how the world’s climate has changed.
He said climate change is certainly happening – and even though Antarctica is more than 10,000 miles away, changes there could affect low-lying areas like Hayling Island.
He explained: ‘The overwhelming view of the experts is something real is happening.
‘You see first-hand because you fly over the ocean and the pilot has a map, not even from the 1950s, from the 1970s, which shows the ocean you are now flying over was ice shelf.
‘They have to keep on remapping the Antarctic.
‘This century they predict we will see significant rise in sea level.
‘Some of these glaciers weigh a trillion tons.
‘There’s a trillion tons of ice, currently on land, that’s going to move rapidly into the sea.’
He added: ‘When I go to Hayling Island Residents’ Association meetings, one of the top topics is flood defences.
‘The sea level has been rising, but more modestly than some people expected.
‘I think one figure I have heard is 3mm a year.’
Mr Willetts said he believed climate change was man-made due to the unprecedented rate of change over the last 100 years.
His visit coincided with the 100th anniversary of Robert Scott’s fateful Antarctic expedition.
Flying from RAF Brize Norton, Mr Willetts also visited the Falklands Islands, before taking a flight to Rothera.
He said: ‘As you fly into the Antarctic, imagine the Alps surrounded by sea, sticking up not from the Swiss landscape but sticking up from an ocean.
‘The ice is blue white because of all the reflections from the sea.
‘It was extraordinarily beautiful.
‘You get out of the aeroplane and see great big seals lying beside the runway.
‘It was fascinating.
‘You see penguins and seals – they are main fauna, and some birds, and of course, there’s a lot of research going on into the sea life.’