Loss of research and operational equipment in Antarctica: Balancing scientific advances with environmental impact

Antarctica has been subject to widespread, long-term and on-going human activity since the establishment of permanent research stations became common in the 1950s. Equipment may become intentionally or inadvertently lost in Antarctic marine and terrestrial environments as a result of scientific research and associated support activities, but this has been poorly quantified to date. Here we report the quantity and nature of equipment lost by the UK's national operator in Antarctica, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Over the 15-year study period (2005–2019), 125 incidents of loss were reported, with c. 23 tonnes of equipment lost of which 18% by mass was considered hazardous. The geographical distribution of lost equipment was widespread across the BAS operational footprint. However, impacts are considered low compared to those associated with research station infrastructure establishment and operation. To reduce environmental impact overall, we recommend that, where possible, better use is made of existing research station capacity to facilitate field research, thereby reducing the need for construction of new infrastructure and the generation of associated impacts. Furthermore, to facilitate reporting on the state of the Antarctic environment, we recommend that national Antarctic programmes reinvigorate efforts to comply with Antarctic Treaty System requirements to actively record the locations of past activities and make available details of lost equipment. In a wider context, analogous reporting is also encouraged in other pristine areas subject to new research activities, including in other remote Earth environments and on extra-terrestrial bodies.


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Authors: Hughes, Kevin A. ORCIDORCID record for Kevin A. Hughes, Boyle, Claire P., Morley-Hurst, Kate, Gerrish, Laura ORCIDORCID record for Laura Gerrish, Colwell, Steve R., Convey, Peter ORCIDORCID record for Peter Convey

On this site: Claire Boyle, Kevin Hughes, Laura Gerrish, Peter Convey, Steve Colwell
15 December, 2023
Journal of Environmental Management / 348
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