At a meeting in Brazil last month, the signatories to the Antarctic
Treaty designated the Larsemann Hills region of the continent as an
Antarctic Specially Protected Area.
Geological analysis shows that one billion years ago, the nearby
Stornes Peninsula was a shallow inland basin, rich in boron and
phosphorus, the key chemical constituents of the rare minerals.
At the time of their discovery, four of the minerals - boralsilite,
stornesite, chopinite and tassieite - were new to science, while the
rest were extremely rare elsewhere.
"It's fantastic to see these extremely unusual, unique minerals
being protected, and being recognized for their geological
significance," Chris Carson, the head of Australia's Antarctic
Geoscience program, told Reuters.
Carson, who helped map the area more than 10 years ago, collected
small samples of rock that were taken to Australia for analysis, to
yield insights into the geological processes that led to the
evolution and formation of Antarctica.
"Geological features are extremely valuable to science and to our
understanding of how Antarctica has evolved and developed over
millions of years," Carson said.
"We can actually say things about this sedimentary basin in Stornes
Peninsula that we can't say about anywhere else."
Environmental protection status in Antarctica is usually given to
sites of biological or cultural importance, but only five sites, in
total, have been covered for geological significance.
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The protection includes curbs on use of surface vehicles and survey
markers, as well as construction activity. Access to each site is to
be restricted through the use of a permit system, with limits on the
numbers of samples taken.
Australia led the protected area proposal, which was jointly
sponsored by other nations with research programs in the area,
including China, India and Russia.
Much of Antarctica is protected by the 1959 pact, which has the
backing of major powers including the United States and China. It
bars nuclear explosions, radioactive waste disposal and military
deployment, and sets environmental safeguards.
(Reporting by Pauline Askin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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