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Chile's top scientists join international Antarctic study

Tuesday, December 26th 2006 - 20:00 UTC
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Three of Chile's leading environmental scientists are on board the Swedish ice-breaker Oden on a 14-day voyage to study the effects of climate change on the southernmost continent.

Together with a team of 21 Swedish and U.S. scientists they are launching a comprehensive study into the current environmental state of Antarctica, as part of the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008. The 30,000 ton ship, commissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), set off from Gothenburg, Sweden, travelling across the Atlantic to arrive in Punta Arenas following a brief stop in Buenos Aires. From Punta Arenas the mission crossed the Magellan Straits, Ross Sea, and then through ice up to six meters thick to the U.S. MacMurdo Base. Six individual investigations focusing on the condition of marine life and the contamination of Antarctic water will be carried out during the voyage. Víctor Hernández, biologist at the University of Concepción will collect around 80 litres of water from ten different locations. He is looking for evidence of residual pesticides or similar toxic products that disperse into the air and water. "Toxic residues generated by pesticides stay in the environment for a long time," said Hernández. "This can be highly dangerous for both humans and animals." For Verónica Vallejos from the Chilean Antarctic Institute (Inach) this trip is an opportunity to study Chile's hard-to-reach Antarctic wildlife populations. "We've got the chance to investigate the presence of animals like whales in Chilean territory that has never before been analyzed," she said. Chile controls 1.250 million km of the 14 million km Antarctic continent, which is home to penguins, whales, fish, crustaceans and a range of hardy marine birds. The first IPY began in 1882 when the scientific community decided to launch explorations into the two ice-caps. It wasn't until 50 years later, 1932, that a second international effort was focused on the same areas. This latest IPY is co-sponsored by the International Council of Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and aims to lay the foundation for major scientific advances in understanding of the nature and behaviour of polar regions and their role in the functioning of the planet. According to the organization, this year could be the very last IPY: a document published by the organization earlier this month warned that the Arctic shelf could melt as soon as 2080. The Santiago Times

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