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Site of recently discovered new minerals protected

June 4th, 2014

Antarctic Treaty nations approve protection for

Stornes Peninsula where U Maine’s Ed Grew discovered new minerals

The Antarctic Treaty signatories meeting in Brasilia in May 2014 voted to designate Stornes Peninsula as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area. UMaine Research Professor Ed Grew has discovered several minerals new to science in rocks from this area.  The Geoscience Australia announcement is here. Stornes Peninsula is in the Larsemann Hills on the coast of Prydz Bay, about 100 km southwest of Australia’s Davis Station.

Australian Antarctic station map

Location of Australian research stations in Antarctica. (From http://www.antarctica.gov.au/.)

Larsemanns ASMA no. 6

Map of the Antarctic Specially Managed Area no. 6. (From http://www.antarctica.gov.au/news/2014/special-protection-for-stornes-hard-rock.)

The action taken at the XXXVII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting strengthens international environmental protection for the area in Antarctica where U Maine’s Ed Grew discovered minerals new to science during field work in 2003-2004 on the Australian Antarctic Expedition. The designation formally recognizes the peninsula’s outstanding geological significance and gives it the highest level of environmental protection under the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection .

“I am thrilled that the Antarctic Treaty nations have taken action that recognizes Stornes Peninsula as a geoheritage site of international significance,” says Grew. “Dr. Chris Carson, now head of Geoscience Australia’s Antarctic Geoscience program, and I spent the 2003-2004 field season mapping and studying its amazing mineralogy and geology. For the past 10 years, Chris has worked very hard with the Australian government team to seek protection of the unique geology and mineralogy of this remarkable area under the auspices of the Antarctic Treaty.”

Ed Grew’s discovery in the area of four minerals new to science: the borosilicate boralsilite and the phosphates stornesite-(yttrium), chopinite and tassieite, together with the abundance of the rare minerals prismatine, grandidierite and wagnerite, constitute the scientific foundation for the proposal undertaken by the Australian Antarctic Division and Geoscience Australia. The three phosphates stornesite-(yttrium), chopinite and tassieite have yet to be found anywhere else on Earth. Grew has since discovered chopinite in a meteorite.

Grew’s research in the Larsemann Hills was made possible by the U.S. National Science Foundation through an NSF Office of Polar Programs grant from 2003 to 2009, and a grant from the NSF Division of Earth Sciences from 2009 to 2013. Grew has published 10 research papers about the Larsemann Hills specimens: Chris Carson is co-author on 6 and Marty Yates at Maine is co-author on 7 of those papers. In addition, the specimens that Ed Grew collected have provided the subject material for Master’s degree theses by Ed’s students at U Maine: Eva Wadoski (2009), JohnRyan MacGregor (2012) and Derek Morris (in progress).

In addition to rare minerals, the Larsemann Hills contain more than 150 lakes. The first international measures for environmental protection of the area were taken in recognition of the important biological and limnological features, including fresh water lakes that are important to breeding seabirds and seals, and are vulnerable to physical, chemical and biological modification within their catchment boundaries. Larsemann Hills was designated as an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA) in 2007. An area where activities in Antarctica are being conducted or could be conducted in the future may be designated as an ASMA, to assist in the planning and co-ordination of activities, avoid possible conflicts, improve co-operation between Treaty Parties or minimize environmental impacts.

The next step was the proposal for the Stornes Peninsula as an Antarctic Special Protection Area (ASPA) – this designation of greater protection is granted by the Treaty nations to safeguard outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness values, any combination of those values, or ongoing or planned scientific research. As part of this effort, Grew was invited by the Australian Antarctic Division and Chris Carson of Geosciences Australia to give a talk “Rare minerals in the Australian Antarctic Territory” at the Antarctic Science Planning Workshop in Hobart, Tasmania on September 21, 2010.

Australia took the lead in preparing the proposal to the Treaty Parties, which was jointly sponsored by other nations having research programs in the Larsemann Hills, including China, India and the Russian Federation. The decision in Brasilia in May 2014 reflects international acknowledgment of the region’s potential vulnerability and of the sensitivity of these remarkable mineral occurrences to human disturbance.

Historically Antarctic conservation efforts have focused on sites of biological or cultural significance, whereas sites of geological significance, in general, have been underrepresented. “I see this decision by the Treaty Parties as part of the growing international trend toward greater appreciation of the value of protecting geoheritage sites for future generations,” says Grew. “So far, there is nowhere else in the world that rivals the array of borosilicate and phosphate minerals found at Stornes Peninsula.”