A new era of international cooperation began in Antarctic marine research with the advent of the BIOMASS program in the early 1980s. Under the aegis of this program, promoted and sponsored by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), two key multinational field programs were initiated with the principal aim of studying krill distributions - which has been the principal historical rationale for studying Southern Ocean marine ecosystems. The first of these, the First International Biomass Experiment (FIBEX), took place in 1980-81, involving the countries of Argentina, Chile, USA, Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom in a broad study of the southwestern Atlantic Sector, and involving Japan, Australia, France, and other member nations in studies of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Sectors. The second study, Second International Biomass Experiment (SIBEX), took place in 1983-85, and focussed on describing seasonal dynamics in the Antarctic Peninsula region. BIOMASS field studies are now ended, and data have been contributed to the BIOMASS Data Centre at British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK.

The Federal Republic of Germany has spearheaded many important research expeditions during the past decade, first in the Antarctic Peninsula region and more recently in the Weddell Sea, many having a focus on the marine planktonic ecosystem. The FRG has made available their primary research vessel, the R/V Polarstern, for the ongoing EPOS (European Polarstern Study) program.

Until the 1980's, most oceanographic research in the Southern Ocean was aimed at describing the structure rather than the functioning of ecosystems. Two important programs initiated in the last decade shifted the emphasis to a study of rates and processes. The Antarctic Marine Ecosystem Research at the Ice-Edge Zone (AMERIEZ) program undertook studies of the biological, chemical and physical dynamics of the marginal ice zone; this program has now provided a greater understanding of how ice-edge ecosystems function through most seasons. The Research on Antarctic Coastal Ecosystem Rates (RACER) program was carded out as a pilot experiment during the late 1980s to examine the physico-chemical processes giving rise to high productivity at all levels of the Antarctic coastal food web; research is continuing at higher time and space resolution through 1992. Recently the US National Science Foundation funded a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program for Palmer Basin, which is designed to provide longterm observations of physical and biological processes affecting krill population distributions.

Climate variability, through feedbacks on physical and chemical processes in oceanic environments, affects and possibly controls variability of oceanic ecosystems and their component plant and animal populations. Marine plankton play a major role in the transfer and/or modulation or amplification of perturbations (natural or anthropogenic) through the marine food web. At present, the role of marine zooplankton in global change is not properly addressed by any existing large-scale international programs, e.g. JGOFS. The scientific basis necessary for understanding and predicting the consequences of these interactions is beyond the capability of any one national effort. Individual national studies, within an international framework, can provide greater resources, more geographical coverage, and greater potential for successful completion of the project goals. Therefore, an international structure is being proposed to be established by SCOR (Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research) and IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission) to expand the focus of GLOBEC. The overall goal of this international program would be to understand the effects of physical processes on predator-prey interactions and population dynamics of zooplankton, and their relation to ocean ecosystems in the context of the global climate system and anthropogenic change. The program would:

  1. improve understanding of the relationship between plankton and variability of fish stocks and other living resources, including the response to climate change;

  2. quantify the influence of zooplankton on biogeochemical cycles, through grazing control of the phytoplankton;

  3. utilization of modern sampling technology;

  4. lead ultimately to a capability to model and predict ocean ecosystem dynamics on regional and global scales.