Antarctic researchers need solid sun block: study

Mon Dec 21, 2009 5:40am EST
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By Pauline Askin

CAPE DENISON, Antarctica (Reuters Life!) - Expeditioners to Antarctic train for freezing temperatures and social isolation, but a study has found there is something else to be wary of -- sunburn.

The recent joint study by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency found that more than 80 percent of researchers to the South Pole were potentially exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays in excess of the recommended limits.

Almost a third received more than five times these limits.

The study showed that in some cases the UV exposure levels in Australian Antarctic stations can reach an index level of 8 or more, making exposure levels there similar to what lifeguards in Australia's sunny Queensland state potentially receive.

"It's the first study that we have done to look at the personal doses of solar UV radiation of Australians working in Antarctica," AAD Chief Medical Officer Jeff Ayton, co-author of the report, told Reuters.

Measurements were carried out during unloading of two vessels while they were at Australian Antarctic stations Casey, Davis and Mawson. Participants wore UV-sensitive badges on their chests for the duration of the working day, which ranged from five to 10 hours but could be as long as 14 hours.

Their face, hands and in some cases more of their limbs were uncovered and subjected to UV exposure.

"Despite sun protection being provided to the workers, a large portion of them reported feeling sunburnt," Ayton said.   Continued...

<p>David Vaughan, a leading glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey, looks out at the edge of the Sheldon glacier on the Antarctic Peninsula January 15, 2009. REUTERS/Stuart McDill</p>