Transcript - Snapshot -Geoheritage in the Larsemann Hills

Hello, my name's Chris Carson, I lead Geoscience Australia's Antarctic Geoscience program, and today I'd like to share with you some special features of some rocks that I've worked on in Antarctica.

But before I get onto that, I would just like to remind you of Australia's territorial claims in Antarctica. Australia claims 42% of the continent of Antarctica which is quite a large area, it's around 5.9 million square kilometres, which is nearly three quarters the size of Australia. So I think you'll agree it's quite a large area.

The rocks I'm going to be talking about today are from an area on the eastern shore of Prydz Bay which is about 120 kilometres south-east of one of Australia's major Antarctica bases called Davis Station. These rocks are from the Larsemann Hills, which is around 40 square kilometres in area, and I mapped these rocks with a colleague from the United States about 10 years ago now during the summer of 2003. During that time we produced a geological map of that area, and it became obvious that these rocks were very special in that they contain quite an abundance of extremely rare, and in some cases as we were to find out, unique minerals that are only found in the Larsemann Hills.

In this particular rock, you can see these large crystals, these black crystals, some as large as your finger. These are a mineral called prismatine. Now that is found elsewhere in the world, but it is relatively uncommon, but in the Larsemann Hills it is extraordinarily abundant, so much so that we named one of the highest peaks in the Larsemann Hills Prismatine Peak due to the abundance of this particular mineral.

We have this sugary coating across the surface of this rock, and that's a very common mineral called tourmaline, that's not the object of our interest here however. You can see the darker green minerals here, that again is prismatine, a different chemical composition of the one I showed you before. But you'll also see there's some bluey minerals running through here, bluey-green, aqua colour, and that's a mineral called grandidierite.

In addition to these minerals, there are other examples that are only found in the Larsemann Hills such as, boralsilite, chopinite, tassieite, and stornesite. These are the four minerals that were discovered in the Larsemann Hills that have been found nowhere else on Earth. There are also a number of other minerals that are rare globally, but are very common in the Larsemann Hills. When we recognised that these rocks were quite special, we wanted to take steps to ensure that they were protected.

Now there are provisions under the Antarctic Treaty System that allows for protection of these special sites. The vast majority of special sites in Antarctica are protected on the strength of their biological or ecological or cultural values. And by cultural values, I mean historic huts that were used by Scott, Shackleton and Mawson, they're all Antarctic Specially Protected Areas. But in contrast there's not many locations in Antarctica that have been protected on the strength of their geological value. There's only four sites, and with the addition of the Larsemann Hills, that makes five across all of Antarctica. So we developed the case, in collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division, to have the Larsemann Hills declared an Antarctic Specially Protected Area, that is, the highest level of environmental protection that is afforded underneath the Antarctic Treaty System.

So that took some time. We started the process about five years ago. Recently in May, there was an Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting, which is held every year. And the Larsemann Hills Antarctic Specially Protected Area was endorsed by all Treaty partners, so from that moment on, the Larsemann Hills has been protected under the highest level of environmental protection offered under the Antarctic Treaty System.