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Antarctic shores preserved by NZ scientists

Antarctic shores preserved by New Zealand scientists

New Zealand scientists have been working with scientists from the US to make sure our Antarctic shores are safe for future generations.

"How our activities degrade the Antarctic environment is of great concern," said research leader Dr Jackie Aislabie.

"In particular, the contamination of soils from fuel spills has been identified as a major concern.

"Accidental fuel spills on land occur mainly near scientific stations, where storage and refuelling of aircraft and vehicles can result in spills, and were a consequence of drilling activities.

"Given the lack of information on how oil spills effect these soils it is difficult to know how to clean them up or indeed whether it is best to leave them. For the last few years we have been investigating how Antarctic soils change after oil spills."

The research, an investment of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, has been comparing oil spill sites with nearby control sites that are oil-free. These studies have been done using soils from around Scott Base, and on the mainland at Marble Point and Bull Pass in the Dry Valleys.

"In collaboration with scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture, climate stations were installed at three locations to make continuous measurements of soil temperature and moisture at a range of depths," said Dr Aislabie.

"We have been comparing properties of the soil, like the microbes they contain, water content, the temperature of the soils and soil chemistry.

"Over the next few years we will be concluding these comparisons, and those properties that we have identified as changing will be studied in an oil spillage trial. We plan to spill oil on soils at Scott Base and monitor how long it takes for changes to occur," said Dr Aislabie.

"At the conclusion of the trial we will either clean up the soil we have contaminated or return it to New Zealand for disposal. All the information we have collected will be used to develop protocols for investigating oil spill sites.

"To make the information we are collecting more usable it is being collated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) and associated database."

For further information:

Jackie Aislabie, Tel 07-858-3713 email aislabiej@landcare.cri.nz

Madeleine Setchell, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology Tel 04 9177 806, Mobile 025 40 60 40, madeleine@frst.govt.nz, www.frst.govt.nz

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