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    The Ross Sea, Antarctica, where all ecosystem processes still remain for study

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    D. Ainley (USA)
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    The Ross Sea is a well-defined embayment of Antarctica about the size of southern Europe, bounded by Victoria Land to the west; King Edward VII Peninsula, Marie Byrd Land, to the east; the Ross Ice Shelf to the south; and the Southern Ocean, Pacific Sector, to the north. Its waters are composed of two related biotic systems: the Ross Sea Shelf Ecosystem (RSShE) and the Ross Sea Slope Ecosystem (RSSlE). The RSShE is the last Large Marine Ecosystems on Earth (except the Weddell Sea) that has escaped direct anthropogenic alteration; the RSSlE, similar to all of Earth’s other marine ecosystems, has lost its large baleen whales but otherwise is intact. A huge multidisciplinary, international scientific effort has been invested in studies of the geology, physics and biology of the Ross Sea over the past 45 years. In particular the activities of the US, NZ and Italian Antarctic programs have been a model of international scientific cooperation and collaboration. The successful result is an incredible wealth of knowledge, including long-term biological data sets, not available anywhere else in the Antarctic, that have documented clear signals of climate forcing, as well as top-down influences not confused by human exploitation or activity. Ironically, much remains unknown about how these ecosystems function. The Ross Sea is off limits to mineral extraction, but pressures on its biological resources are growing. The economic value of the resources should be weighed against the value of the system as a unique scientific resource. The Ross Sea represents an unparalleled natural laboratory in which the results of different fishery management strategies can be modeled in the context of short-term and decadal variation in biological populations, with these models applied elsewhere in the Southern Ocean and the World.