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Britain gives away aged ice station

作者:廉缣    发布时间:2019-02-28 05:04:06    

By Nigel Sitwell UKRAINE will sign an agreement next week to take over the British Antarctic Survey’s Faraday Station, one of the oldest research bases in Antarctica. No money will change hands, but the transfer relieves Britain of its obligation to clean up and remove the redundant station (see Map). The years have taken their toll on Faraday, which dates from the mid-1950s. The BAS decided that it would be too expensive to upgrade the base in line with British health and safety rules, so in 1993 Foreign Office ministers began to look for a suitable country to take it over. If Britain had failed to find a taker, the BAS would have had to close the base in 1996. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty’s Environmental Protocol, the entire station would have had to be physically removed and disposed of outside Antarctica. This would have increased the cost of shutting down the station to at least £1 million. The BAS would also have had to set up an automated system to collect data on the oceans and atmosphere for worldwide monitoring programmes. After initial interest from South Korea fizzled out, Ukraine came into the picture. Ukrainian scientists accounted for around 20 per cent of the former Soviet Union’s extensive research programme in Antarctica. But Ukraine failed to reach an agreement with Russia on taking over one of the former Soviet stations. The deal with Britain will have advantages for both countries. Britain will avoid the logistical problems and cost of closing the station, while Ukraine will acquire an established station in good working order, complete with fixtures and fittings, some scientific instruments, electricity generator and waste-processing equipment. In return, Ukraine has promised to rebuild Faraday’s fuel store so that it complies with the Environmental Protocol, and has agreed to continue monitoring meteorological conditions, sea levels, stratospheric ozone and the state of the ionosphere. Ukraine will pass these data to the BAS for at least 10 years. “We were concerned about closing Faraday because it feeds information into world databases,” says Barry Heywood, director of the BAS. “We needed someone who would continue that work, and with the Ukrainians there will be no diminution in what Faraday contributes.” The transfer will be complete by February 1996. The arrangement is very satisfactory, says Frank Curry, head of administration and planning at the BAS. “They have the knowledge and the ability to run the station properly. In fact, they have many people who have spent most of their lives in Antarctic research.” Ukraine has become an adherent state of the Antarctic Treaty, it has signed the Environmental Protocol and has joined the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Britain is also scaling down its operation at Signy in the South Orkneys. Like Faraday, Signy is more than 40 years old and would have been expensive to modernise. The old buildings, which housed up to 30 scientists in summer and around 15 in winter, are being removed and replaced by a state-of-the-art building that will provide accommodation and laboratory facilities for eight people during the summer months only. Another problem at Signy is the booming population of fur seals. The animals were once hunted almost to extinction, and in 1965 there were practically none on Signy Island. But in February this year researchers counted 22 000 on the island, which measures just 6.5 by 5 kilometres. The population explosion has devastated the coastal vegetation, which cannot survive the constant outpouring of urine and faeces. The seals also pose a hazard to researchers. “Virtually all of the animals are immature bulls,” says Ron Lewis-Smith, who has been monitoring the fur seals for 30 years. “It can be quite traumatic doing field work, walking to one’s research site, or trying to go ashore from a boat when there are several hundred seals on a small beach.” Signy’s research programme in terrestrial biology will continue, but the marine work is being moved to Rothera Station, on Adelaide Island, where a £4.5 million building programme is under way, including accommodation for 40 people and a rock airstrip. Despite the transfer of Faraday to Ukraine and the scaling down of Signy, Britain is not cutting its research in Antarctica, says Heywood. More scientists, both from the BAS and universities, will be able to work at Rothera, and thanks to the runway they will have access to more of the continent. “Moving the marine programme to Rothera will provide the opportunity to test theories developed at Signy in another area of Antarctica,” he says. A further advantage of leaving Faraday is that the BAS’s research ship will no longer have to supply the station,

 

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