Antarctic Blog 2013


photograph © 2013 Lorena Lagos Pailla and Leticia Barrientos

Day 11: Industrial pollution and metalloid-resistant bacteria (1.3.2013)

The sampling trip for today was aimed at industrial contamination in and around Fildes Bay. Collaboration between Jota's lab (Dr. José Peréz-Donoso) and Argentinean researchers at National University of La Plata is centered on finding hydrocarbon-resistant bacteria whose genes can be used to improvement bioremediation processes.

Within a few kilometers of the Chilean Escudero base are oil storage tanks (-62 11 38, -58 56 16) originally installed by the Soviets and now run by the Russians (Bellingshausen Station, opened 1968), the King George Island airport (SCRM; -62 11 38, -58 58 48), and a Chinese research station (The Great Wall Research Station; -62 13 5, -58 57 40, opened in 1985). JP and I took samples from each of these site's focusing on soil that appear to be visibly contaminated with oil. Diesel is the most common hydrocarbon fuel on the island.

The Antarctic Treaty, signed December 1, 1959 and effective June 23, 1961, regulates the activities of all the countries that signed. Initially this was 12 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Subsequent agreements are referred to as the Antarctic Treaty System.

Before this treaty, seven countries--Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom--claimed often overlapping regions of Antarctica. The treaty is first and foremost a peace treaty: it prohibits "any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military maneuvers, as well as the testing of any type of weapons." This aspect was strongly stressed at the INACH training we underwent in Punta Arenas before we departed for Antarctica (see schedule at the top of this blog).

A Treaty supplemental agreement in 1991 made clearer the requirements for chemical waste management. One of the treaty system rules is that countries are responsible for their own waste, chemical, sewage, and even old and decaying containers, metals, and vehicles.

The bottom right photograph shows an abandoned material or personnel carrier close to the King George Island airport. Its removal--like everything made of metal that can't be recycled in Antarctica--is very expensive but projects to cut up and remove abandoned material are always ongoing, with shipments being return to their country of origin every summer in the most easily navigable months.

The Canadians, lead by Robert Swan and the 2041 organization, have been partnering with the Russians to clean up the petroleum tank farm on Fildes Peninsula (top two photographs below). The site was substantially free of solid waste material (garbage, rusting pipes and drums, decaying metals, etc.) when we arrived in spring 2013. Only the tank farm is still in place at that site, in clear view of Fildes Bay (paste -62 11 38, -58 56 16 directly into Goggle Earth and see for yourself). This was a monumental clean up task involving 1,500 metric tons and years of work, summer after summer; and Robert Swan, the 2041 organization, and the Environmental Services Association of Alberta (Canada) should be praised.

Oil Tank
Decaying fuel tank at the Bellingshausen petroleum tank farm
associated with the Russian research base on King George Island
Sampling for hydrocarbon-resistant microbes under a valve
Abandoned Tank
A hydrocarbon-contaminated pit at the King George Island airport
An abandoned amphibious carrier

Below left is a decaying (fuel) pump house at the Chinese research facility. It's clearly in bad shape and we pulled a sample from underneath a leaking value. But look at what is apparently the replacement facility here at The Great Wall Research Station. The newly-installed tanks here are protected by a recently-poured concrete retaining wall. Typically this can handle 10% of the aggregate if a spill occurs. The Google Earth satellite photograph from February 20, 2006 (-62 13 5, -58 57 40) shows that this facility was not built yet, but it is present in the March 20, 2011 satellite photograph.

This was the only modern, industrial retaining wall I have seen so far in Antarctica on King George Island.

Isn't the artwork drawn on the ends of these industrial storage tanks in Antarctica beautiful?

Chinese Pumphouse
Chinese Tank
Chinese Pump House
Decaying pump house on the Chinese base
New tank farm on the Chines base
"State-of-the-art" retaining wall



Chinese tank artwork Chinese tank artwork Chinese tank artwork Chinese tank artwork
Decorated fuel tank ends (the other ends were painted too)


Go to Next Day in Antarctic Blog | Go to Previous Day in Blog | Go to the 15–Day Blog Table of Contents | Chilean Antarctic Institute Web Site


Red Head Home | Antarctic Blog 2013 | Chemiluminescence Home | Teaching Flash Animations | Atmospheric Chemistry Glossary


This blog is my responsibility. All errors in content, location, people, and species naming are mine alone. © 2013, 2017 T. G. Chasteen