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Sao Paulo (AFP) Feb 26, 2012
The destruction of Brazil's Antarctic base in a fire that killed two navy personnel has dealt a major blow to the country's strategic research on the resource-rich continent, experts say.
"All the central core of the base, where the installations were concentrated, was lost. The exact extent of what occurred still needs to be determined, but the assessment is that we really lost virtually everything," Defense Minister Celso Amorim said late Saturday.
Brazilian experts painted a grim picture of the damage after Saturday's blaze, which swept through a room housing energy generators of Brazil's Comandante Ferraz research base located in Admiralty Bay, King George Island, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The base, which was established in 1984, conducts biological science research focused on coastal and shelf marine ecosystems.
Meanwhile, a Brazilian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft was to pick up 45 evacuees from the base -- 32 civilians, 12 navy personnel and the injured navy man -- in Punta Arenas, Chile.
The Brazilian Navy said the aircraft was due to land at the Galeao air base near Rio around midnight after dropping four scientists in Pelotas in Rio Grande do Sul state.
In a statement, it also said that roughly 70 percent of the installations at the base was destroyed by the fire.
Shelters for isolated emergency modules along with laboratories, fuel tanks and the helipad -- which are isolated from the main building -- remained intact, it added.
The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation for its part said that scientists at the base were conducting studies on the effects of climate change in Antarctica and their impact on the planet, in addition to research on marine life and the atmosphere.
"It's an irreparable loss," the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo quoted Yocie Valentin, a Brazilian expert in charge of scientific work in Antarctica, as saying Sunday.
"We lost much more than equipment, we lost lives. I lost all my research and that was one of the cheapest. Some of the research lost cost millions of dollars," survivor Joao Paulo Machado Torres, a 46-year-old biophysicist, said in a telephone interview carried on the O Estado de Sao Paulo website from Punta Arenas.
"We are doing cutting-edge science in Antarctica, studies with important implications for climate in Brazil, fishing resources and biodiversity," biologist Lucia Siqueira Campos, a member of the National Committee of Antarctic Research, told the daily O Globo Sunday.
The icy continent plays a crucial role in regulating climate and oceanic circulation in South America.
In addition to the loss of very expensive equipment and all the data collected since December, the fire leaves dozens of Brazilian study groups without a fixed base in the area, according to the experts.
Antarctica, which is mostly covered by snow and ice, holds under its continental shelf, huge mineral resources and the surrounding seas are full of bio-resources.
In addition, the glaciers of Antarctica contain 90 percent of the world's fresh water.
The region's mounting strategic value helps explain why around 30 countries, all signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, operate seasonal and year-round research stations on the icy continent.
The treaty, which entered into force in 1961 and currently has 49 signatory nations, sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on the continent.
President Dilma Rousseff vowed that the Comandante Ferraz base would be rebuilt and Amorim said plans for the reconstruction would begin Monday.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera offered his country's help in the reconstruction work.
The bodies of non-commissioned officer Carlos Alberto Vieira Figueiredo and sergeant Roberto Lopes dos Santos, currently at the Eduardo Frei base, were meanwhile to be flown back to Brazil via Punta Arenas when weather conditions permit.
Beyond the Ice Age
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