Skip to Content | Contact

Day 1 - Human Impacts

Title: The use of permeable reactive barriers to treat contaminated sites in Antarctica

Presenter: Tom Statham

The University of Melbourne

Authors: T. Statham, K. Mumford, G. Stevens

The University of Melbourne


Hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination both have the potential to cause long-term toxic effects within the diverse and sensitive Antarctic ecosystems. To reduce the impact of this pollution there is a requirement to develop low cost remediation methods suitable for Antarctic environmental and logistic limitations. Permeable reactive barriers are a passive in situ technology currently being developed to treat contaminated ground and surface water in Antarctica.

A thoroughly researched Antarctic remediation site is adjacent to the Main Power House at Casey Station. Here, in response to a fuel spill a permeable reactive barrier was constructed in 2005. The original design objective was to capture and accelerate the degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons. Extensive evaluation of nutrient levels, hydrocarbon concentrations, microbial activity and hydraulics has lead to improved material designs and a greater understanding for the construction of subsequent barriers. The barrier is now being utilised to assess potential materials to treat both hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination. With further refinement and assessment this technology can be suitable to assist the remediation of other contaminated sites in Antarctica and other cold regions.

Title: Sensitivity of the Antarctic amphipod Paramoera walkeri to diesel and fuel oil: Lethal and behavioural impacts

Presenter: Kathryn Brown

Southern Cross University

Authors: Kathryn E. Brown1, Catherine K. King2, Alison Lane3, Konstantinos Kotzakoulakis4, Simon C. George4, Peter L. Harrison1

1 - Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW 2480 Australia,

2 - Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania 7050 Australia

3 - Environmental Resources Management Australia, Spring Hill, QLD 4000 Australia

4 - Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW, 2109 Australia


One of the serious threats to the Antarctic marine ecosystem is the release of large volumes of petroleum fuel. Numerous fuel spill incidents have occurred and risks of a major spill are increasing due to continued expansion of human activity in the Antarctic region. The sensitivities of Antarctic marine organisms to pollution are largely unknown, and water quality guidelines for management of hydrocarbon contamination in Antarctic marine waters have not been developed. To address this knowledge gap, toxicity tests were conducted on a range of marine invertebrates, including the amphipod Paramoera walkeri, at Davis and Casey Stations. Three fuels were mixed with cold seawater to generate water accommodated fractions (WAF) of Special Antarctic Blend (SAB) diesel, Marine Gas Oil (MGO) diesel and intermediate fuel oil (IFO 180). Adult and juvenile amphipods were sensitive to WAFs of all three fuels. Amphipod mortality and total hydrocarbon concentrations were highest in SAB WAFs compared to the MGO and IFO. Results showed differing responses between life-stages and over time, and sub-lethal effects occurred at lower concentrations than did mortality in WAFs of all three fuels. Point estimates of the concentration of hydrocarbons in WAFs causing mortality (LC5 and LC50) and behavioural effects (EC5 and EC50) to 5% and 50% of test organisms were derived. These results can be used to assess the potential risk of fuel contamination on Antarctic marine invertebrates, to develop spill contingency plans, and will provide a scientific basis for better management of fuel carriage and transfer in the Antarctic.

Title: Preliminary analysis of the histopathological impacts of sewage discharge on resident fish, Trematomus bernacchii at Davis Station, East Antarctica

Presenter: Patricia Corbett

School of Life and Environmental Science, Deakin University

Authors: P Corbett1, J Mondon1, C King2

1 - School of Life and Environmental Science, Deakin University, Warrnambool Vic 3280

2 - Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems, Australian Antarctic Division, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050 Australia


During the 2009/2010 summer field season a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the sewage discharge at Davis Station, East Antarctica was conducted. As part of this EIA, a preliminary histopathological survey of the gills and liver in the emerald rock cod (Trematomus bernacchii) was completed to describe the nature and extent of impact from the sewage plume on local fish populations. Twenty fish were collected from four sites on a spatial gradient extending out from the point of discharge. A histological health index was developed based on structural alterations evident in fish tissues. All fish sampled from within 500 m of the outfall exhibited significant histological alteration in all major tissues. Fish from other sites also showed some alteration in either gill and /or liver tissue, the degree of which decreased with increasing distance from the outfall. Given the pathologies observed in this initial pilot study and the low sample size available for analysis, this data set was extended in the summer of 2012/2013 in which a further 164 fish were collected from 6 sites. This research will use a weight of evidence approach, alongside ecological monitoring, chemical analysis, ecotoxicological testing and dispersal modelling of the discharge plume to determine the environmental impact of the sewage discharge.

Title: Springtail community response to petroleum hydrocarbons in subantarctic soils

Presenter: Thomas Mooney

University of New England

Authors: T Mooney1,2, C King2, J Wasley2, B Raymond2, N Andrew1

1 - University of New England

2 - Australian Antarctic Division, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050 Australia


The Australian Antarctic Division is currently remediating fuel spills on Macquarie Island. To contribute to the development of appropriate remediation targets, the present study examines the response of springtail assemblages to Special Antarctic Blend (SAB) diesel. Springtail assemblages were sampled over three transects (ten, 1×1 m plots per transect) with an organic carbon gradient ranging from 0 to 50% organic matter (OM) to examine the influence of organic carbon on SAB toxicity. For analysis, plots were separated into three groups based on OM content: low (0 to 10%), medium (15 to 30%) and high (36 to 50%). Seven pairs of soil cores were sampled from each plot and spiked with a range of SAB concentrations from 125 to 40000 mg SAB/kg soil. Following 15 days incubation, surviving springtails were extracted and identified to species. The change in springtail assemblage was modeled as a function of SAB concentration and soil OM content to determine the SAB concentration causing a 20% change in dissimilarity (EC20), from the controls. Low OM soils had an EC20 of 445 mg SAB/kg soil; medium OM soils had an EC20 of 1545 mg SAB/kg soil; and high OM soils had an EC20 of 1032 mg SAB/kg soil. These point estimates will contribute to a risk based framework to develop petroleum hydrocarbon remediation targets for the subantarctic.

Title: Biopiles – A remediation approach for hydrocarbon-contaminated soil at Casey Station, Antarctica

Presenter: Rebecca McWatters

Australian Antarctic Division

Authors: R. McWatters1, D. Wilkins1, G. Hince1, L. Wise1, T. Spedding1, K. Rowe3, A. Bouazza2, W. Gates2, and I. Snape1

1 - Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, TAS, Australia

2 - Dept Of Civil Engineering, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

3 - GeoEngineering Center at Queen’s-RMC, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada


Hydrocarbon contamination in Antarctic environments can pose potential toxic and long-term effects on the sensitive ecosystems. Two fuel spills at Australia’s Casey Station (66°17' S 110°31' E) in Antarctica, identified in 1999 and 2010 have resulted in fuel migration downstream through permafrost. Elevated hydrocarbon levels were detected in soil surrounding both sources. The clean up approach required low cost remediation techniques suitable for the Antarctic conditions and to allow signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty to meet obligations under Annex III of the Environmental Protocol. Remediation of the 1999 fuel spill was the first major instance in Antarctica of a comprehensive remediation strategy which involves managing the contaminated site using combination of Permeable Reactive Barriers (PRBs) and treating contaminated soil in biopiles.

Biopiles are an active treatment method, with nutrient addition and aeration systems specifically tailored to the site, soil conditions, risks associated with Antarctic operations and the environment. Contaminated soil was excavated from both fuel spill sites during the summers of 2011 through 2013 and placed in biopile treatment cells. These cells were designed with a geosynthetic composite liner system providing a barrier between contaminated soil and the surrounding environment. This is the first time geosynthetics have been used in field applications in Antarctica. Research is focused on the success of the biopile technique at remediating soil as well as the long-term performance of these geosynthetics to impede contaminant migration with exposure to the Antarctic’s cold and dry climatic conditions and freeze-thaw cycling. Contaminant migration through the biopile’s composite barrier system was monitored in the field using a system of monitoring pipes and sample extraction areas. Results after the first two seasons of biopile operations show decreased levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and no hydrocarbon migration below the geosynthetic barrier system. It is expected that the biopiles will continue to operate for a number of seasons with the goal of making remediated soil available for reuse.

Title: Persistent Organic Pollutants in Antarctica: System Input from Distant and Local Contaminant Sources

Presenter: Seanan Wild

The Southern Ocean POP Program (SOPOPP), Atmospheric Environment Research Centre (AERC), Griffith University

Authors: Mr Seanan Wild1, Dr Susan Bengtson Nash1, Mr David McLagan1, Professor Darryl Hawker1, Dr Roger Cropp1, Dr Martin Schlabach2, Dr Rossana Bossi3, Dr Johnny Stark4, Dr Cath King4

1 - The Southern Ocean POP Program (SOPOPP), Atmospheric Environment Research Centre (AERC), Griffith University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia,,,,,

2 - National Institute for Air Research (NILU), Kjeller, Norway,

3 - Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Roskilde, Denmark,

4 - The Australian Antarctic Division, Hobart, TAS, Australia,,


Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are toxic, anthropogenic contaminants, ubiquitous in the global environment. Polar Regions have long been established as environmental “sinks” for POPs released at temperate and tropical latitudes. Our understanding of the behaviour and impact of POPs in the Antarctic requires that we identify and quantify input pathways to the region.

The primary input pathway of traditional, semi-volatile POPs to the Antarctic is via the atmosphere. However, as the Stockholm Convention on POPs recognizes an increasingly complex list of chemical structures as bearing the properties of POPs, the importance of other pathways must be considered. These alternate pathways include the hydrosphere, in-situ anthropogenic usage and migratory biota.

The Southern Ocean POP Program (SOPOPP) has in recent years sought to fill knowledge gaps pertaining to the input pathways of POPs into the east Antarctic sector. Here we summarise our findings regarding the chemical composition of air masses measured in the Australian Antarctic Territory through 2010 and 2012. We discuss hydrospheric input of ionic perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) to the Southern Ocean in the context of the unique oceanographic features of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). Finally we report upon a comprehensive inventory of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and PFCs within Australia’s Casey station and the surrounding abiotic and biotic environmental compartments.

Our findings provide a robust baseline for temporal monitoring and geographic comparisons, as sought by the Global Monitoring Plan (GMP) on POPs. The work provides empirical observations for further mass-balance modelling of POPs in the Antarctic environment under fluctuating environmental conditions.

Latest news

  • Conference prize winners
    27 Jun 2013

    The Strategic Science in Antarctica conference concluded yesterday and two days of workshops have commenced. Congratulations to those who were awarded prizes for their contributions to the conference.

  • Watch the welcome message from Australia's Environment Minister
    24 Jun 2013

    In a welcome message via video from Canberra, Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, reflected on the foresight of earlier decision-makers who agreed to set aside an entire continent for scientific research.

  • Last minute information for attendees
    20 Jun 2013

    There's not too long to wait until the start of the Strategic Science in Antarctica conference, and we hope you’re as excited as we are! Read on for more information about the final program, registration, Twitter, presenters, posters and social functions.

More news…

Key dates

  • 11th June 2013
    Registrations close
  • 21st June 2013
    Registrations at the AAD open for staff
  • 24th June 2013
    Registrations at the venue open
  • 24th June 2013
    Conference commences
  • 26th June 2013
    Conference concludes

More key dates…

This page was last modified on 6 June 2013.