Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pristine Antarctica?

Antarctica's a big, frozen continent with hardly anyone living on it. So it should mostly be free of the pollution that often accompanies human settlements, right? Wrong. Many of the research stations in Antarctica are relatively crowded together - because there's not a lot of ice-free areas on the continent - and they don't adhere to best practices in disposing of their waste. Which means that some rather unwelcome visitors, like e. coli, have contaminated the environment. A recent study published in the journal Polar Research presented some rather sobering data on the extent of the problem. The study's author reports seeing things like untreated sewage being dumped directly into the ocean, despite the fact that national governments agreed to the Environment, or Madrid, Protocol years ago in order to curb just these kinds of abuses.

Some governments are working on the problem, which admittedly is expensive because doing anything in Antarctic is expensive. The colder climate of Antarctica means that pollution lingers longer, for a variety of reasons. Yet Antarctica is valued by researchers for its more pristine environment, so it behooves research programs to spend the money now to protect their magnificent outdoor lab for the future. After all, if it can be made to work in Antarctica, it'll work on the rest of the continents too - maybe researchers can prove to the rest of the world that it's possible to live well and not pollute.

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