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(Australian Associated Press)
The concept of an untouched frozen continent is melting as humans leave their mark on Antarctica.
Research stations, waste sites, runways and tourist camps are damaging environmentally-sensitive areas, new research shows.
Buildings cover more than 390,000 square metres of Antarctica and human activity is evident across more than 93,000 square kilometres, the Australian study shows.
Published in the Nature Sustainability journal, the study measured human impact on Antarctica using satellite imagery.
“Our research shows that human impacts are the greatest on land that is also the most environmentally sensitive – ice-free areas within a few kilometres of the coast,” lead author Shaun Brooks said.
Researchers from Hobart’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Wollongong found half of all large ice-free coastal areas had been disturbed.
Ice-free areas support the greatest diversity of flora and fauna, including adelie penguins, and also provide the most accessible areas for marine animals to breed on land, Mr Brooks said.
“There is a growing tension between the increasing pressure for access to the continent and international commitments to protect the Antarctic environment.”
Authors hope the study will encourage coordination and sharing of facilities between nations and users to help limit the human impact on the environment.
Mr Brooks hoped it would enable a sustainable balance between the need for research, tourism and maintaining the health of the environment.