Argentina: Researchers working on project to grow vegetables in Antarctica

A team of researchers from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) Santa Cruz and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Tierra del Fuego has started to tackle the possibility of growing green leafy vegetables and cherry tomatoes in Antarctica. 

The specialists of the technical body and of the portfolio from Tierra del Fuego are working on the design of modules that will allow developing these crops in Antarctica. This project will allow biologists in Antarctica to have fresh vegetables throughout the year on the so-called white continent. 

The Antarctic region is characterized by extremes: 99% of the surface is permanently covered by snow or ice, temperatures can reach 40 degrees below zero and, in winter, the night lasts for four months. However, a team of researchers from INTA Santa Cruz and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Tierra del Fuego took up the challenge of designing a system that allows the continuous cultivation of green leafy vegetables in this area. 

According to the Argentinian Antarctic Institute, "the cold climate forces people to double their daily calorie intake. At each base, the diet is plentiful, varied and determined by the customs of the country of origin and by the food available, although it is scarce in fresh fruits and vegetables."

The researchers at the base get no vegetables and fruits if the winter is severe and the plane can not land. "This project will give wintering biologists a space where they can have fresh food and a green area," said Jorge Birgi, researcher of the Forest Group, Silvopastoril, Agricultural and Water Management of INTA Santa Cruz.

"How to make green leafy vegetables grow in one of the planet's most extreme climates is a great challenge," Birgi said. "Not only because of the logical and climatic issues of the place, but also because of the strict rules for the preservation of the environment, which include the inability to use the soil and the correct treatment of waste generated by crops," he said.

Based on the demand of the Argentinian Antarctic Institute in conjunction with the Government from Tierra del Fuego and the Catamarca Regional Center of the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), the organization is working on the design and implementation of a hydroponic system to grow leafy vegetables in the Antarctica. 

"One of the advantages of this system is that the use of water is more efficient and waste can be recycled, thus reducing waste substantially," said Birgi.

The project contemplates the installation of the modules in the Carlini base, known as the scientific capital of Argentina's Antarctica. The selected vegetable species will respond to the food demand from the base, which is why it only includes cherry tomatoes, arugula, lettuce, parsley, basil and chard.

The growth and development of the plants will be based on a hydroponic system called Nutrient Film Techique (NFT), as it is a viable alternative in areas with low availability of water or with poor soils where people can't grow traditional crops. The researchers will install fluorescent lamps and LED lights to regulate the photoperiod (periods of light-dark) and the intensity of light required by each particular crop.

Source: Noticias Argentinas

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