Remarks at an Event with the U.S. Antarctic Center and Antarctica New Zealand

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Christchurch, New Zealand
November 5, 2010

MR. FENWICK: Madam Secretary, welcome to Christchurch, and especially welcome to this place, the Antarctic program where New Zealand celebrates one of its most important and enduring connections with the United States. Half a century ago, as a result of the friendship between Admiral George Dufek and Ed Hillary, our countries decided to build our two bases in Antarctica, virtually (inaudible) on the shores of Ross Island. And wisely, we felt the United States chose Christchurch as the place to establish their Operation Deep Freeze.

And so for 50 years, our scientists and our airmen and airwomen support personnel have collaborated, often working in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. They’ve worked together, they’ve played together, they’ve rescued one another when they’ve had to, and we’ve supported the principles of a strong treaty system. And time and again, (inaudible) science has reminded how this great continent still holds most of the answers on how the earth is going to respond to its climate changes. And just as our – the pristine ecosystems of the Ross Sea continue to astonish us when scientists discover more and more wondrous sea life within it.

Madam Secretary, we both might have hoped that the ceremony would be held on the ice field at Pegasus Airfield, where we would be standing on their vast white wilderness of the Ross Ice Shelf, a single piece of ice bigger than the state of California. And on the skyline, we’d see three turbines built by New Zealand to provide renewable wind energy for both our bases. It’s perhaps the most graphic contemporary illustration of our combined commitment to the environment of Antarctica. It obviates the need to ship half a million liters of fossil fuel to the ice every year.

Unfortunately, as we all know, you were unable to officiate at the wind farm in January due to the tragedy in Haiti. But later in the year, some energy officials from Washington and I inspected it, and they expressed the view that it should be a foundation for future joint projects to reduce our footprint on that fragile polar landscape and to create a model for environmental sustainability in the world’s most extreme climate. It’s a worthy goal that both our nations can aspire to and which I hope we can show through the progress when next you visit.

Now, can I introduce Art Brown, the Christchurch-based representative of the National Science Foundation, to say a few words?

MR. BROWN: Madam Secretary, on behalf of the National Science Foundation and the United States Antarctic Program, it’s my pleasure to welcome you here to the International Antarctic Center. I should also note that Dr. Subra Suresh, the NSF director, and Dr. Karl Erb, the OPP office manager, are – want me to extend to you a personal invitation to visit Antarctica in the near future.

NSF, as you are aware, as the manager of the U.S. Antarctic Program, proudly works alongside the U.S. Department of State, to carry out the terms of presidential memorandum issued in 1982 to maintain, and I quote, “an active and influential presence in Antarctica designed to support the range of U.S. Antarctic interests.” The brutal natural challenges and logistics optical conducting research in Antarctica are ever-present.

They forge between individuals and national programs an interdependence that the world admires as a model of international harmony. Over the years, that relationship has grown and matured into a complex and fruitful scientific and logistical partnership that is addressing global scientific challenges, including one of the most pressing scientific problems facing the world today – the efforts to understand the mechanics and consequences of changing climate.

A major uncertainty in climate modeling is the fate of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. In the unlikely event that the ice sheet were suddenly to melt entirely, global sea level rise would be on the order of hundreds of feet. But what would occur in the event of a partial collapse? We may already be seeing troubling signs of instability in portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet called the Pine Island Glacier. NSF-funded researchers are deploying to the Pine Island Glacier because ice flows there are accelerating and the glacier is retreating and thinning very rapidly. The conditions at the Pine Island Glacier may well provide us with a vital glimpse of things to come as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is concerned.

While U.S. Antarctic Program is on the leading edge of climate and other scientific research, it is also a steward of the Antarctic environment. The program fulfills the vision of the framers of the Antarctic Treaty by putting science to work to help us better understand our world and to adopt sustainable environmental practices. We are proud to work with the Department of State in that lofty endeavor.

Thank you. And now, I would like to turn the podium over to Secretary Clinton.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. Well, I am delighted to be here today, and I’m glad you were not deterred by a little wet weather. In fact – are here for a very important occasion – for the United States to be able to recognize and express appreciation to the government and people of New Zealand and of Christchurch for the longstanding relationship on behalf of this very important work in the Antarctic. I want to thank Art Brown and the National Science Foundation, and please extend my appreciation to all of the team back in Washington. And Mr. Fenwick, I thank you very much for the work you’re doing on behalf of New Zealand and this partnership.

I’m delighted to be accompanied here today both by the foreign minister. Murray is a great partner of mine as we forge an even deeper and broader U.S.-New Zealand relationship. And we’re also accompanied by our two ambassadors, the New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Moore, and the American Ambassador to New Zealand, Ambassador Huebner. And I keep an eye on the ambassador from New Zealand because he lives next door to me in Washington. And my lips are sealed. (Laughter.)

For nearly a century, long before we made the agreement that was referenced back in 1958, Christchurch served as a way station to one of the most mysterious and important places on our planet. And during that time, officials like the mayor – and I’m delighted you’re here. I always love those wonderful – what are they called --

MR. PARKER: Bling. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Bling. (Laughter.) That’s the official description. Excellent bling, Mayor. Excellent bling.

But Christchurch has served with great warmth – so many people who have passed through here on the way to Antarctica. And in fact, as you know far better than I, Christchurch was the starting point for one of the great contests of the past 100 years, the race to the South Pole. It was truly a high point of exploration in the 20th century. So it is fitting that we meet here in Christchurch at another high point, a time when the friendship between the United States and New Zealand is the strongest we’ve seen in a quarter century. Our countries are working together in many areas, from providing disaster relief and rebuilding Afghanistan to expanding women’s rights and spurring economic growth.

But the bond that may be even the strongest of all of our strong bonds is the one that was forged here, the scientific collaboration at Christchurch which goes back into the 1950s. Kiwi and American scientists are tackling one of the most pressing challenges humanity faces – climate change. By studying air bubbles trapped in ancient ice, they hope to understand the effect of greenhouse gases on global temperature. Few other places could provide the kind of insight that our scientists are gaining. And even as we work together to understand what it is that is happening, we are collaborating on ways to lessen our own environmental impact.

As you’ve already heard, earlier this year, the United States National Science Foundation and the Government of New Zealand installed wind turbines to provide clean energy for our bases in Antarctica. That means lower greenhouse gases and less risk associated with transporting and storing liquid fuel. It’s a testament to that continent’s unique quality that for decades, the world has agreed on Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty, the first arms control treaty signed during the Cold War, has kept the area free of weapons since the 1960s, making it the most successful arms control treaty in history. And today, America and New Zealand remain committed to keeping Antarctica a cooperative, peaceful, and pristine scientific reserve.

Now, this work requires large and complex support systems – people, cargo, all of that must be moved across vast stretches of unforgiving ice. And we need each other and we have a great, great partnership. We saw it earlier this year when the New Zealand Air Force fought icy conditions to reach an American worker at McMurdo who had become very sick. And I want to thank the crew of that P-3 Orion and everyone who supported them for their rescue efforts.

Now, there are some ways that we can memorialize this, and what you see here on the easel is one of them. As a token of friendship and to commemorate next year’s 100th anniversary of the great race to reach the South Pole, I would like to present to the people of New Zealand this new aeronautical map of the route between Christchurch and McMurdo. The map has many benefits, but one especially unusual feature. As a reminder of the sacrifices it took to conquer the conditions on the continent, 11 of the way points have been named after the unsung heroes of Antarctic exploration – the dogs and ponies that made those early trips possible. In the story of the Antarctic, the names of the explorers are well known and famous, but now they’re joined by the likes of Helge and Snippet and Bones and Nobby.

And I want to thank Air Force Colonel Ronald J. Smith, who could not be here with us today, but it was his idea to memorialize the animals. And I’d like also to acknowledge Anthony Wright, the director of the Canterbury Museum. Mr. Wright – thank you, Mr. Wright. And the museum has kindly agreed to place this map in its Antarctic exhibit, and I’m very grateful to you.

This is an example of the kind of cooperation we want to see more of, where we work on behalf of our common challenges and find common ground. The ground there is many meters thick of ice, and we know that what is happening there can have a direct impact on New Zealand, on the United States, and indeed on all of the world’s people.

So I want to express my appreciation to our partners in New Zealand going back to 1958 who have been with us on this effort. I was very proud, when I was a senator from New York, to represent the C-130s on skis that fly out of Schenectady on behalf of the National Science Foundation, and I visited the crew there. This is a great example of our successful partnership and a sign of even more to come. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2010/T35-21