Antarctic Science

Biological Sciences

Untouched Antarctica: mapping a finite and diminishing environmental resource

Kevin A. Hughesa1 c1, Peter Fretwella1, Joanna Raea1, Keith Holmesa2 and Andrew Fleminga1

a1 British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

a2 3 Capel Close, Oxford OX2 7LA, UK

Abstract

Globally, areas categorically known to be free of human visitation are rare, but still exist in Antarctica. Such areas may be among the most pristine locations remaining on Earth and, therefore, be valuable as baselines for future comparisons with localities impacted by human activities, and as sites preserved for scientific research using increasingly sophisticated future technologies. Nevertheless, unvisited areas are becoming increasingly rare as the human footprint expands in Antarctica. Therefore, an understanding of historical and contemporary levels of visitation at locations across Antarctica is essential to a) estimate likely cumulative environmental impact, b) identify regions that may have been impacted by non-native species introductions, and c) inform the future designation of protected areas under the Antarctic Treaty System. Currently, records of Antarctic tourist visits exist, but little detailed information is readily available on the spatial and temporal distribution of national governmental programme activities in Antarctica. Here we describe methods to fulfil this need. Using information within field reports and archive and science databases pertaining to the activities of the United Kingdom as an illustration, we describe the history and trends in its operational footprint in the Antarctic Peninsula since c. 1944. Based on this illustration, we suggest that these methodologies could be applied productively more generally.

(Received January 10 2011)

(Accepted April 04 2011)

(Online publication May 25 2011)

Correspondence:

c1 kehu@bas.ac.uk

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