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U.S. Regulations Governing Antarctic Meteorites

The following rules regarding Antarctic meteorites were put in place to ensure that any specimens will be properly collected, handled, documented and curated to preserve their scientific value.

Restrictions

  • No U.S. citizen or expedition may collect meteorites in Antarctica for other than scientific research purposes.
  • Expeditions to Antarctica to collect meteorites must ensure that the meteorites will be properly collected, documented, handled, and curated to preserve their scientific value. Curation includes making specimens available to other scientific researchers on a timely basis, in accordance with specified procedures.
  • Expedition organizers must develop and implement written procedures for the collection, documentation, and curation of specimens, and must submit plans to NSF for review as described below.

Handling Requirements
Specimens must be labeled and handled to minimize the potential for contamination from the point of collection to the point of curation. At a minimum:

  • Handle the samples with clean Teflon or polyethylene coated implements or stainless steel implements (or equivalent)
  • Double bag samples in Teflon or polyethylene (or equivalent) bags
  • Use a unique sample identifier with each sample
  • Keep the samples frozen at or below -15°C until opened and thawed in a clean laboratory setting at the curation facility
  • Thaw in a clean, dry, non-reactive gas environment, such as nitrogen or argon

Sample documentation
Documentation for each specimen, that includes, at a minimum:

  • A unique identifier for the sample
  • The date of find
  • The date of collection (if different from date of find)
  • The latitude and longitude to within 500 meters of the location of the find and the name of the nearest named geographical feature
  • The name, organizational affiliation, and address of the finder or the expedition organizer
  • A physical description of the specimen and of the location of the find; and
  • Any observations of the collection activity, such as potential contamination of the specimen.

Curation
Make prior arrangements to ensure that any specimens collected in Antarctica will be maintained in a curatorial facility that will:

  • Preserve the specimens in a manner that precludes chemical or physical degradation
  • Produce an authoritative classification for meteorites that can be shown to belong to a well-established chemical and petrological group, and provide appropriate descriptions for those meteorites that cannot be shown to belong to an established chemical and petrological group
  • Develop and maintain curatorial records associated with the meteorites including collection information, authoritative classification, total known mass, information about handling and sample preparation activities that have been performed on the meteorite, and sub-sample information
  • Submit an appropriate summary of information about the meteorites to the Antarctic Master Directory via the National Antarctic Data Coordination Center as soon as possible, but no later than two years after receipt of samples at the curatorial facility
  • Submit information on classification of the meteorite to an internationally recognized meteorite research catalog, such as the “Catalogue of Meteorites” published by the Natural History Museum of London or the “Meteoritical Bulletin” published by the Meteoritical Society
  • Specify procedures by which requests for samples by scientific researchers will be handled
  • Make samples available to scientific researchers at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable period of time
  • In the event that the initial curatorial facility cannot or is not willing to provide curation services for the specimens, it must consult with NSF to identify another appropriate curatorial facility, or to determine another appropriate arrangement

Submitting information to NSF
Expedition organizers must submit a copy of procedures and plans to NSF PLR at least 90 days prior to the planned departure date to Antarctica.
NSF will publish a notice in the Federal Register for a 15-day public comment period, and will then evaluate the plan and provide comments to the expedition organizer.

Exception for serendipitous finds
A person who makes a serendipitous discovery of a meteorite in Antarctica which could not have been reasonably anticipated, may collect the meteorite for scientific research purposes, provided that the meteorite is collected in the manner most likely to prevent contamination under the circumstances, and provided that the meteorite is otherwise handled, documented and curated in accordance with the rules described above.

Questions? Read about the rule in the original Federal Register, or email acapermits@nsf.gov.