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Study: Snow could melt faster on tourist trails |  climate

Study: Snow could melt faster on tourist trails | climate

At the end of the world, a tower of majestic icebergs over a vast and desolate snowy landscape. But suddenly the calm was interrupted when the swimsuit-clad tourists fell into the icy waters and frightened a group of penguins.

Visitors have paid dearly for a cruise ticket to experience the delicate ecosystems of Antarctica and see the wildlife that most people can enjoy at the zoo or in nature documentaries.

– We want to see the wonderful nature of Antarctica before it goes, a cruise tourist from Germany told AFP earlier.

humanitarian effect

But the presence of visitors can in itself affect the unique and untouched nature of many places. This applies not only to tourists who travel primarily to Antarctica on cruise ships but also experts who operate research stations in the area, warns a study published in Nature Communications.

Black soot (BC) particles near places where beach tourists often go, and where research stations are located, appear to be able to reduce snow cover by a maximum of 23 mm each summer in the worst-affected areas, according to a study.

The researchers came to this conclusion after measuring the concentration of soot particles in 155 snow samples collected over several summers, along a 200-mile stretch of the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Samples were taken in places where many researchers and tourists go but also in far corners, and the former turned out to have more soot particles than the latter.

absorb heat

It is known that dark soot particles, which are formed during the combustion of fossil fuels and biomass, contribute to faster melting of snow and ice when they land on the ice and absorb heat. But the researchers wanted to delve deeper into the issue as human activity in Antarctica has become increasingly widespread.

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About 70 research stations housing about 5,500 people in the summer are in use in the area covered by the Antarctic Treaty. About 74,000 tourists visited Antarctica in the 2019/2020 season — more than double what it was a decade ago, according to the IAATO tourism organization.

The researchers estimate that an average of 53,000 tourists visited Antarctica during the 2016-2020 seasons — and they believe that could translate to about 83 tons of snow melting each summer.

Following in human footsteps, ships, planes, diesel power plants, generators, helicopters and trucks scatter soot particles that can affect snow several kilometers from the source.

To reduce human impact in the most visited areas of Antarctica, researchers have suggested ways to reduce the spread of soot particles, such as using clean energy, hybrid or electric vessels and limiting the number of tourists who can visit the area. The tourist footprint may have been larger a decade ago, before the United Nations IMO banned the use of heavy fuel oils in the world’s oceans.

‘not extensive’

Johan Ström, professor of atmospheric chemistry with a focus on air pollutants and aerosols at Stockholm University, participated in the study and assesses that the researchers’ conclusions about soot particles are reasonable. However, he does not agree that the problem described in the report is particularly extensive.

“I am sure BC from different stations in a clean environment affects the snow. It takes fantastically little to do this, but the effect decreases very quickly with distance,” he wrote in a comment to TT and continues:

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“It is not excluded that emissions (human and natural) on a global scale are harmful to Antarctica. But what the study indicates is not so widespread that it is a major problem.”