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Scientific Expedition to Antarctica

Photographer: Felipe Trueba

 

A group of eight scientists chosen to embark on a special expedition to Antarctica has been conducting experiments in a bid to discover more about the vast southernmost continent and the planet as a whole. It is difficult to obtain access to Antarctica. Only a select number of tourists, scientists and military personnel in charge of expedition logistics have a chance of setting foot there.

 

The Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), which manages and coordinates scientific activities in the Chilean Antarctic Territory, organizes a Scientific Antarctic Expedition on an annual basis, giving researchers a chance to participate in a series of field trips in the austral summer between October-March. Along with the three branches of the Armed Forces of Chile, INACH operates a polar station called the Union Glacier Camp, a temporary summer base located on the giant Union Glacier in the Ellsworth Mountains, just over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from the South Pole. This year, INACH selected eight scientists via a public contest to take part in four field trip projects involving land and air outings in order to conduct a range of experiments, such as recording measurements and collecting data, looking at rudimentary forms of life and taking samples of snow, ice and sediment.

 

Chilean scientists Sandra Troncoso and Sebastian Vega have been exploring the ecophysiology of Antarctic lichens, a life form that develops a crust on the surface of rocks on which it grows, and their possible use in pharmacology and cancer treatment. The pair is studying the survival capabilities of these organisms, able to grow in such a harsh environment with few nutrients, is extremely cold and endures intense ultraviolet and gamma radiation under the constant daylight of the Antarctic summer months.

 

Venezuelan researcher Juan Manuel Carrera and his Chilean colleague Jose Jorquera have also been evaluating reflectivity. They have been computing something known as the albedo effect, the value of the reflection of solar radiation on the surface. The data they collect as part of an ongoing project would be used to compare and complement the information provided by meteorological satellites and can be used to improve and redesign climate models.

 

Chilean glaciologists Ricardo Jana and Francisco Aguirre have been analyzing the weather conditions of the past year using snow samples, and are checking the general movement of the glacier itself using Differential Global Positioning Systems (DGPS). Their work helps to improve the accuracy of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) measurements provided by satellites from the current level of up to 15 meters (49 feet) of a nominal accuracy to within 10 centimeters (3.9 inches).

 

Chilean researchers Nicolas Bruna and Matias Vargas have been collecting sediment in various areas around the Union Glacier in search of nanoparticles; microorganisms in bacteria capable of catalyzing chemical reactions in an extreme environment. Such nanoparticles have previously been produced artificially in a chemical reaction, which is a highly toxic and expensive process. But now, scientists are looking to create nanoparticles in a natural and more cost-effective way. Nanoparticles are used in medicine and in the renewable energy sector.