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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 Mar 1;38(5):1265-74.

Hydrocarbon spills on Antarctic soils: effects and management.

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Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton, New Zealand.


Antarctic exploration and research have led to some significant although localized impacts on the environment. Human impacts occur around current or past scientific research stations, typically located on ice-free areas that are predominantly soils. Fuel spills, the most common occurrence, have the potential to cause the greatest environmental impact in the Antarctic through accumulation of aliphatic and aromatic compounds. Effective management of hydrocarbon spills is dependent on understanding how they impact soil properties such as moisture, hydrophobicity, soil temperature, and microbial activity. Numbers of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, typically Rhodococcus, Sphingomonas, and Pseudomonas species for example, may become elevated in contaminated soils, but overall microbial diversity declines. Alternative management practices to the current approach of "dig it up and ship it out" are required but must be based on sound information. This review summarizes current understanding of the extent and effects of hydrocarbon spillage on Antarctic soils; the observed physical, chemical, and biological responses of such soils; and current gaps in knowledge.

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