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Contamination of the marine environment by Antarctic research stations: Monitoring marine pollution at Casey station from 1997 to 2015

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posted on 2023-09-13, 04:12 authored by Jonathan S Stark, Glenn J Johnstone, Catherine King, Tania Raymond, Allison Rutter, Scott C Stark, Ashley TownsendAshley Townsend
The contamination of the marine environment surrounding coastal Antarctic research stations remains insufficiently understood in terms of its extent, persistence, and characteristics. We investigated the presence of contaminants in marine sediments near Casey Station, located in the Windmill Islands of East Antarctica, during the period spanning from 1997 to 2015. Metals, hydrocarbons, PBDEs, PCBs, and nutrients were measured in sediments at anthropogenically disturbed sites, including the wastewater outfall, the wharf area, two former waste disposal sites, and various control locations. Sampling was carried out at three spatial scales: Locations, which were generally kilometres apart and formed the primary scale for comparison; Sites, which were 100 meters apart within each location; and Plots, which were 10 meters apart within each site. Consistently higher concentrations of most contaminants, and in some cases nutrients, were observed at disturbed locations. Some locations also exhibited an increase in contaminant concentrations over time. The spatial distribution of sediment properties (such as grain size and organic matter) and contaminants displayed intricate patterns of variation. Variation in grain size depended on the size category, with fine grains (e.g., <63 μm) showing the greatest variation at the Location scale, while coarse grains exhibited minimal variation at this scale. Contaminant levels demonstrated significant differences between Locations, accounting for approximately 55% of the overall variation for metals, while the variation within the 10-meter scale generally exceeded that within the 100-meter scale. Residual variation among replicate samples was also very high, demonstrating the need for adequate replication in studies of sediments and contaminants around stations. Some contaminants exceeded international guidelines for sediment quality, including metals, hydrocarbons, and PCBs. We conclude that Antarctic research stations such as Casey are likely to pose a moderate level of long-term ecological risk to local marine ecosystems through marine pollution. However, contamination is expected to be confined to areas in close proximity to the stations, although its extent and concentration are anticipated to increase with time. Raising awareness of the contamination risks associated with Antarctic stations and implementing monitoring programs for marine environments adjacent to these stations can contribute to informed decision-making and the improvement of environmental management practices in Antarctica.


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Central Science Laboratory, Vice-Chancellors Office


Public Library of Science (PLoS)

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Copyright: © 2023 Stark et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. (

UN Sustainable Development Goals

14 Life Below Water

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