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Australia seeks alternative to melting Antarctic runway

SYDNEY--Australia said Wednesday it was searching for a new aircraft landing site for planes supplying its three bases in Antarctica because the current runway is melting due to global warming.

Australia has three stations on the icy continent — Casey, Davis and Mawson — occupied by scientists and support staff, with the Wilkins runway, carved into glacial blue ice, a vital transport link.

But a melting surface is restricting use of the AU$45 million (US$46.4 million) landing strip near Casey and the Australian Antarctic Division said they were looking at alternatives.

They include the ice-free Vestfold Hills near Davis.

Meteorological stations have shown a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years on the Antarctic peninsula, which is roughly triple that of the global temperature rise.

Planes can only land if the temperature is below minus five degrees Celsius.

“There (are) signs there's a long-term warming trend, global warming. And that will make it more difficult to operate this runway in the future,” the division's director Tony Fleming told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Instead of the 20 flights a season predicted by the Australian Antarctic Division before the runway opened, just two landed in the 2010/11 season with the runway closed from December to February due to melt.

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This file photo taken on Jan. 11, 2008 shows passengers, scientists, government officials and ground crew gathering for a group photo on the purpose-built Wilkins glacial blue ice runway in front of the first Airbus A319 jet to carry passengers from Hobart to Antarctica, some 65 km from the Australian Antarctic research station of Casey.

(AFP)

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