Cryosphere - McMurdo Station
McMurdo Station, Antarctica is the largest base in the United States Antarctic Program. Beginning in 1999, researchers at Texas A&M and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi have monitored human impacts at McMurdo Station in order to inform management decision making and document environmental performance.
McMurdo Station was constructed in 1955-1956 on the site of Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition's Winter Quarters. The fifty plus years of permanent occupation of the site has lead to a number of local environmental impacts including physical disturbance of the surface and release of hydrocarbons, oranochlorines and metals into the local terrestrial and marine environments.
Each year researchers from Texas have traveled to McMurdo Station to conduct field research. There is an online journal for the 2009 field season.
Remote sensing and GIS analysis revealed that most physical disturbance of land surfaces occurred prior to the 1970s. Soil and marine benthic sampling revealed that hydrocarbons from fuel and anthropogenic metals occurred in patches of tens to hundreds of square meters. Most soil hydrocarbon and metal concentrations did not exceed biological effects thresholds.
Past disposal practices contaminated sediments in Winter Quarters Bay with a mixture of organochorines, petroleum hydrocarbons, and metals in quantities that often exceeded biological effects thresholds. Chemical contamination and organic enrichment have reduced marine benthic community ecological integrity adjacent to the Station but some affected areas were recovering to a less disturbed state after the decommissioning of a sewage outfall. Contaminants were detected in marine benthic organism tissues signifying bioavailability.
Disturbances of the Station environment have been restricted to within several hundred meters of the Station and are expected to persist for years if not decades. This ongoing work has demonstrated the effectiveness of many monitoring design elements, metrics and methodologies from temperate climates for use in cold environments and provide guidance for the establishment of monitoring programs elsewhere in Antarctica. More information on this program can be found at Texas A&M Polar Science program.