A joint U.S and New Zealand team has completed an environmental survey of a former Antarctic research station at Cape Hallett and has recommended steps to safeguard penguin chicks at a nearby rookery from melt pools contaminated with oil from an unknown source.
The team discovered the pools during a site visit in late January, undertaken under the auspices of the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), to assess measures needed to complete a clean-up of the station that was begun by New Zealand in the mid-1980s.
The four-person team -- which consisted of a biologist, an environmental officer for Antarctica New Zealand, and two environmental specialists employed by Raytheon Polar Services, of Englewood, Colo., NSF's Antarctic logistics contractor -- took photographs and soil samples at the site over an 18-day period.
As the assessment was underway, the team discovered a number of Adelie penguin chicks whose feathers appeared to be contaminated with oil. The source of the contamination appears to be petroleum residue in about a dozen small melt pools on the site. The source of the contamination is as yet unknown.
Although no longer an active research station, Cape Hallett is a frequent stop for tour ships. Tourists are drawn to the area because the Adelie colony contains as many as 50,000 breeding pairs of adult penguins and their chicks. Only a small number of penguin chicks were observed to have been contaminated with oil.
In the mid-1990's, remediation teams discovered a 20,000-gallon fuel tank and several smaller tanks at the Cape Hallett station containing fuel that had been left when the station was closed down in 1973.
Subsequently, over a two-year period, the tanks were pumped dry and the fuel removed from the site. Joyce Jatko, the U.S. Antarctic Program's environmental officer, said that the remediation team reported no evidence of contaminated melt pools or of oiled birds at the time.
Jatko added that materials will be sent to Cape Hallett at the earliest opportunity to fence off the pools during the penguin-breeding season when the chicks are most likely to become fouled.
Additonal steps will be taken to remediate the fuel contamination.
Hallett Station was operated jointly by New Zealand and the United States from the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957 to February 1973 on the eastern side of Cape Hallett. It was operated as a year-round research station until 1964, when the main scientific laboratory was destroyed by fire.
Hallett was then used as a summer-only research station until 1973, when it was closed. The station was initially occupied for the study of geophysics, but after the IGY, Hallett was primarily used to study biology and Adelie penguins in particular.
For a fact sheet on the U.S. Antarctic Program, see: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/media/99/fs_usap.htm
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