The BELAM proposal is written in the framework of the research programme "Polar terrestrial research", and more specifically the "Management of data and collections" part. It is the natural continuation of the BELISA-SAMBA project (Search for Antarctic Meteorites, Belgian Activities) started in 2009, at the initiative of Prof. Claeys of the VUB that already led to the collection, by Belgian-Japanese teams, of more than 800 meteorites near Princess Elisabeth Station, in Antarctica. The VUB and NIPR signed a memorandum of understanding that ensures that the newly collected meteorites will be shared equally between Japan and Belgium. Presently, the samples are stored at the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo, and will be gradually transferred to Belgium, starting in the fall of 2011.
The BELAM project will permit to (i) establish at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) a modern curation system for Antarctic meteorites, (ii) contribute to the development of a Belgian research network on meteorites, and (iii) carry out high level research on these new specimens, with a special focus on the Sm-Nd and Lu-Hf isotopic signatures of chondrites.
At the RBINS, the curation tasks involve the establishment of repository facilities that guarantee the preservation and proper management of the samples, the classification of the meteorites and the databasing of the collection, including a user-friendly online access for the whole scientific community. Photographs will be taken of all samples, and the existing geology-mineralogy database of RBINS will be extended with modules designed for managing loans and requests for destructive analyses, and storing photographs and publications. The format of this database will be compatible with international practices and in particular with the NIPR format. The newly classified meteorites will be published in the Meteoritical Bulletin.
A handbook on all procedures will be written, to serve as quality control and as a guide for future curation activities. The national research network on meteorites will start with the partners RBINS, VUB and ULB, who will encourage other interested research groups, notably at universities, to join, through the organisation of a Belgian workshop. This network will be expanded to include international partners. A larger-scale workshop will be organised in the third year of the project to present the collection of Antarctica meteorites to the international scientific community and establish the RBINS as a European centre for the curation of Antarctic meteorites. .
In the second part of the project, research will be carried out on the discrepancies between the Sm-Nd and Lu-Hf systematics in chondrites. Especially the ratios of Lu/Hf will be investigated in silicate and metallic phases, to better constrain the reference value of the CHUR (chondritic uniform reservoir) used in planetary geochemistry, and to elucidate the large variations of the Lu/Hf ratio in chondrites, compared to the Sm/Nd ratio. This study will also permit to refine the decay constant of 176Lu that shows a shift between terrestrial and extraterrestrial samples. It is expected that the results will allow a better understanding of the possible initial heterogeneity of the solar system. The results will be published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at specialised international congresses.
Meteorites being a highly popular topic, an additional benefit of this project will be the organisation of outreach activities targeting both the schools and the families on the solar system and on Antarctic research in general, with an effort to draw attention of the sustainability of the Southern Continent.