HomeTop StoriesThe 10 years of Criosfera 1, Brazilian module in Antarctica - 02/13/2023...

The 10 years of Criosfera 1, Brazilian module in Antarctica – 02/13/2023 – Science

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It is in an icy desert where temperatures reach minus 55 degrees that Criosfera 1 is installed, a remote laboratory run by Brazilian scientists.

The station, which has just completed ten years of uninterrupted operation in Antarcticahas a series of special equipment to measure and monitor some information from the environment.

These data serve as a basis for research, which allows understanding the impact of the melting ice and rising sea levels on the Brazilian coast, microorganisms capable of living in extremely hostile conditions and even the role of cyclones in spreading fungi, algae and other materials from one continent to another.

BBC News Brasil interviewed geophysicist Heitor Evangelista, professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj) and scientific coordinator of Criosfera 1.

He has been working for 35 years in the Brazilian Antarctic Program, which is based at the Comandante Ferraz station, on the coast of the continent.

“The station is on an island to the north of the Antarctic peninsula, which has an airport and good navigability in the summer”, he contextualizes.

Criosfera 1, on the other hand, is located further inland on the continent, almost 2,500 kilometers from the Comandante Ferraz station and just 600 km from the center of the South Pole.

Evangelista describes the region as “a desert of ice”.

“Even for us, who have been working on the coast of Antarctica for decades, knowing the conditions in the center of the continent was new. There is a completely white desert, with no visibility at all. During the summer, the sun spends 24 hours circling the horizon. in winter, there are six months of night with the temperature down to -55°C”, he characterizes.

The laboratory was installed at that location in 2012, but it only entered into full operation the following year.

It is 6.3 meters long, 2.6 meters wide and 2.5 meters high and has a total weight of 3.5 tonnes. In the summer months, energy is captured from solar panels. In winter, wind turbines ensure the operation of all devices.

The initiative is coordinated by Uerj, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), with support from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).

“Exactly ten years ago, we transmitted uninterruptedly the data captured there”, says the geophysicist.

But what were the main discoveries during this decade of work?

ice melting

Evangelista points out that the choice of location to install Criosfera 1 was not random.

“The western sector of Antarctica is one of the most sensitive regions on the planet for climate changes. We are talking about a place that presented the highest rate of temperature increase in the last 50 years”, he summarizes.

According to the expert, the ice sheet that covers this territory is under “high climatic stress”.

“The data show us an increase in the flow of ice from these regions towards the ocean. It is possible to identify fractures in the ice and the appearance of icebergs”, he details.

All this material ends up in the sea, which contributes to the elevation of sea water levels —which is of direct interest to Brazil.

“Our country has a coastline of more than 7,000 uninterrupted km and we will be one of the ten territories most affected by rising sea levels, as we have several coastal cities with more than 1 million inhabitants”, he says.

“In addition, we have several highly relevant ecosystems that are on the coast, such as the mangroves. Therefore, the rise in sea level does not only affect social and economic well-being, but also directly impacts the biodiversity of our areas coastlines”, he adds.

Evangelista argues that these reasons are more than enough for Brazil to be “a protagonist in monitoring what happens to the ice in the western sector of Antarctica”.

“From this data, we can improve our projections about the future and guarantee actions to mitigate the damage”, he says.

Resistant microbes and spreading cyclones

The geophysicist highlights other studies carried out based on Criosfera 1 that investigate the types of microscopic beings that live in the region.

“Some colleagues are carrying out research to determine the micro-organisms that are present in the Antarctic ice”, he cites.

“They are very resistant beings, who survive in extreme conditions. Naturally, they have a very interesting potential to generate biotechnologies”, he evaluates.

Another work by the team that maintains the Brazilian module involves the role of cyclones and gusts of wind in the spread of fungi, viruses, bacteria and plants between one continent and another.

“Since the 1980s, we’ve seen an increase in winds around Antarctica. We’re also seeing an increase in cyclones formed in the La Plata River basin in Antarctica. South America“, Explain.

“And all this different atmospheric dynamics has transported biological material to the interior of Antarctica. We began to observe the presence of fungal spores, fragments of seaweed and other compounds there”, he continues.

Evangelista says that, during the last expedition to Criosfera 1, the group of researchers saw a bird in the region for the first time.

“It flew over our laboratory and we took the opportunity to film and photograph it. We took the images to specialists, who told us that it was an Antarctic petrel”, he says.

“Usually, this species moves only 250 km from the mainland coast. And we made the most southerly sighting of it ever recorded”, he adds.

Understanding whether birds need to travel more and what is the relationship between this and climate change could become a new mission for academics who explore the region.

Other recent finds from Cryosphere 1 include the detection of the largest heat wave in the western sector of Antarctica and the pioneering record of a pressure shock related to the underwater volcano Hunga, located in Tonga, in the Pacific Ocean.

What lays ahead

For Evangelista, the Brazilian module has a lot to offer in the coming decades.

“First of all, we need to improve our equipment and make the systems even more efficient”, he points out.

“We also want to install sensors to monitor the greenhouse gases and ultraviolet rays”, he adds.

This information can help scientists understand the rate of warming of the planet and how the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects us against part of the solar radiation, is progressing.

Finally, the geophysicist admits a dream: to install the first Brazilian telescope on the site.

“Antarctica is a privileged place for the study of astronomy and astrophysics, which are areas in which the country has invested little”, he believes.

At the end of 2022, the agreement of Brazilian scientists took another step in studies on Antarctica: the inauguration of Criosfera 2.

The second Brazilian module was installed 500 km from Criosfera 1, even closer to the center of the South Pole.

Those responsible for the project understand that the information collected by the module will be “essential for the improvement of forecast models, both meteorological and climate change”.

“The data will also be used to detect signs of changes in atmospheric chemistry that are related to pollution in South America, due to industrial pollutants coming from fires”, anticipates a text published on the MCTI website.

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