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Long-term study will continue to monitor WA’s Burrup rock art

26 March, 2009

A four-year monitoring project has found no evidence that emissions from industries located on the Burrup Peninsula are damaging the Heritage-listed Burrup rock art.

CSIRO and Murdoch University have completed initial studies in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and will continue to monitor any potential future changes.

The rock art consists of images dating back to the last Ice Age. They are of archaeological significance, both nationally and internationally, and immensely important to Aboriginal people.

Following concerns expressed over emissions from industries located on the Burrup Peninsula and their possible adverse effects on the rock art, the Burrup Rock Art Monitoring Management Committee supported by the Western Australian Department of State Development commissioned the initial four-year environmental study.

Scientists from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research monitored a range of key air pollutants at the site. They found that dust from the industrial site was consistent with iron ore dust, but that dust collected from the rock art was consistent with local soil-derived dust and sea salt.

Dispersal of other airborne pollutants was also modelled. Existing concentrations were measured and probable future scenarios considered. CSIRO’s researchers concluded that current and future concentrations would be minor, relative to standard assessment criteria.

In addition, rock samples were tested to pollutant levels up to ten times the future pollutant estimates with no discernable changes to the rock surface.

Scientists from Murdoch University assessed microorganisms on rock surfaces at five sites close to the industrial emissions source and two sites distant from the source. They found no differences between the samples from the sites close to and distant from industrial emissions.

Scientists from the Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship and CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering and used techniques known as spectrophotometry and reflectance spectroscopy to establish whether any changes in colour, contrast or chemical composition on the surface the rock art had taken place over the four-year monitoring period.

No perceptible change in any of these criteria was noted over nearly 2,500 individual measurements.

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