26 September 2023

Scientists in the heat of cleaning Antarctica

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Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) are preparing for the largest ever Australian-led environmental clean-up of the southern-most continent they work in.

Principle Environmental Toxicologist at AAD, Catherine King said field teams equipped with drones, steam-driven ice drills and field analytical equipment are to be deployed to each of Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations to assess the extent, risk and impact of legacy waste and contamination.

“The program aims to better understand the environment at risk, prioritise sites for clean-up, and help determine what tools and technologies will eventually be needed for the job,” Dr King said.

“Over the next five years, contaminated sites across Australia’s Antarctic Territory will be examined, including the former Wilkes station,” she said.

“This is about understanding what is there and the effect it’s having on the local Antarctic environment.

“Then, based on environmental risk, prioritising which sites need to be addressed first, all the while making sure we don’t make the situation worse.”

Dr King said samples and data from extensive field work would then be analysed at AAD in Tasmania, in collaboration with research partners throughout Australia and internationally.

Meanwhile, AAD scientists have retrieved the latest chapter on the planet’s climate history after travelling to an ice core “library” in Antarctica.

Glaciologist with the AAD, Lenneke Jong said the region concerned had provided scientists with valuable records since the 1980s.

“The ice cores contain tiny trapped bubbles of air, trace chemicals and particles, which provide an insight into the past,” Dr Long said.

“By recovering shallow cores, we’re able to look back over recent years and see how this information overlaps with meteorological data,” she said.

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