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This is Australia's Davis research station, Antarctica. Credit: Shaun Brooks

Human 'footprint' on Antarctica measured for first time

The full extent of the human 'footprint' on Antarctica has been revealed for the first time by new research which used satellite images to measure stations, huts, runways, waste sites and tourist camps at 158 locations. The study found that more than half of all large ice-free coastal areas of Antarctica have now been disturbed by human activity.

Buildings alone cover more than 390,000 square metres of land while the visual footprint -- the areas from which human activity can be seen -- extends to more than 93,000 square kilometres.

The lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, IMAS PhD student Shaun Brooks, said measuring the area impacted by humans was important for Antarctic conservation and environmental management.

"Although the 53 countries that have signed the Antarctic Treaty agreed to protect the Antarctic environment, until now there has been only limited data on the spatial extent of human activity on the continent," Mr Brooks said.

"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.

"Ice-free land supports the continent's greatest diversity of flora and fauna, including iconic species such as Adelie penguins, and provides the most accessible areas for marine animals that breed on land.

"We found that 81 per cent of the buildings in the Antarctic are located within just 0.44 per cent of the land that is free of ice."

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