February 19, 2009

New Antarctic Research Center Welcomes World Scientists

Sunday marked the official opening of Antarctica's new Belgian-operated "Princess Elisabeth" scientific research center, where dozens of scientists and researchers around the world are coming to learn more about how the great white continent affects the rest of the world, the AFP reported.

The new station is being praised for its cutting-edge zero emissions technology and is even being called the "greenest" research station on the continent.

The state-of-the-art flying saucer-like building is mostly powered by the wind and sun and everything on board is recycled.

Scientists and journalists visiting the station have access to Internet connections and receive regular fresh meals.

Kazuyuki Shiraishi, a 60-year-old veteran researcher from Japan, has been involved with 14 Antarctic missions and has witnessed how science and technology has evolved along with the continent.

"At the start we still used morse code to communicate," he said.

Hugo Decleir, a veteran of the earlier "King Baudouin" Belgian base which was abandoned in 1967, returned for the opening of the new base, built near mount Utsteinen some 100 miles from the icy continent's eastern flank.

He found a food parcel left by Belgian geologists 40 years ago.

"Back then we didn't think too much about the environment," Decleir said.

As the economic downturn gets worse, commercial interest in the natural resources on the South Pole is beginning to increase.

Annick Wilmotte, a moss and lichen expert spending 17 days at Utsteinen, is concerned about how that might effect the protected continent.

"I take exception to the way the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries hope to make commercial gains from the scientific research," she said.

Cyrille D'Haese, a young biologist from the Natural History Museum in Paris, is examining mites and other acarians on a piece of granite.

He said millions of years ago the Antarctic had a tropical climate and now he hopes to find out more about these microscopic survivors.

"Have they stayed here adapting or were they brought here by birds? By studying their genes we should soon know," he said.

Another researcher is studying how the ice on Antarctica evolves.

"If we can understand that... we could perhaps anticipate the reaction to global warming. Because if the Antarctic ice cap melts water levels will rise by 70 yards", said Steven Roberts of the British Antarctic Survey.


Image 2: Building concept: impression of the building integration on-site.


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