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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 November 2005, 09:19 GMT
Scientist studies Antarctic soil
Paula Roberts
Ms Roberts is looking forward to spending time with 40,000 seals
A scientist from Bangor University is setting out for Antarctica to study the effects of global warming on soil.

Postgraduate Paula Roberts will spend three-and-a-half months on Signy island, which is less than 6.5km long.

Her work there will be part of a joint scientific research expedition with the British Antarctic Survey.

But she is not daunted by the prospect of life in the remote location, saying: "Some 40,000 seals and many penguins live there, so I won't be lonely."

"I will be collecting samples for analysis over their summer period. Only two kinds of native plants flower on the island - but there is plenty of moss there.

"Signy is twice the size of Bardsey Island, and that's where the British Antarctica centre is, where I'll be staying," said Ms Roberts, before she left her home in Llanberis in Gwynedd on Sunday.

Baking fresh bread

She said there will be nine people working on scientific projects at the centre.

"I will be a part of the community, the crew come from all over the world, from Holland, Sweden, South Africa and Malaysia," she said.

"So there will be plenty of opportunity for discussion. Everyone has to participate in the centre's work, baking fresh bread, maintaining the water and heating equipment."

Currently only two flowering plants thrive in the harsh ecosystem of Signy - a grass and a small cushion-forming plant.

Paula Roberts
The student scientist visited the Arctic earlier this summer

Ms Roberts, who is about to complete a PhD in soil science at the university's school of agricultural and forest sciences, will be collecting soil samples from areas where the plants grow.

Once back in Bangor, she will analyse the samples to prove or disprove a hypothesis regarding how climate change will affect the flora of Antarctica.

Some scientists believe that rather than making the harsh environment more hospitable, global warming will reduce the soil's capacity to support plant life causing a loss of native biodiversity and leading to irreversible changes to the ecosystem there.

Ms Roberts will be one of two Welsh-speaking women in the continent this Antarctic summer, although the second will not be at the same base.

She said she was not daunted by the project ahead, having spent time on Bardsey Island off the Lleyn Peninsula in north Wales, as a student.

She spent two weeks at the opposite pole, the Artic, in June and said that its constant sunshine affected her sleep patterns.

"The sun was shining above all the time, there was no difference between night and day. But in Antarctica there will be an hour of two of darkness."


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