The fate in the marine environment of a minor diesel fuel spill from an Antarctic Research Station

Monitoring was undertaken of the fate in the marine environment of an accidental spill of diesel fuel (1000 litres) from Faraday Research Station, Galindez Island, Antarctica in March 1992. On the day after the incident concentrations in seawater reached a maximum of 540 µg 1-1 for n-alkanes and 222 µg 1-1 for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). However, concentrations returned to local background levels within one week. The fuel had an immediate toxic effect on intertidal limpets in the local station area, and 100 animals were found dead the day after the spill. Surviving animals had elevated concentrations of both n-alkanes and PAH for over a month after the spill, reaching a maximum of 9960 µg kg-1 for n-alkanes and 90 µg kg-1 for PAH 30 days after the spill occurred. This was the result of accumulation from a residue of the diesel being flushed by rainwater into the littoral zone. Seven months after the spill concentrations of both n-alkanes and PAH in limpets living close to the station were still an order of magnitude greater than those found in animals at an uncontaminated control site. This is because limpets living in the littoral zone were continually exposed to chronic but low-level hydrocarbon contamination from station activities. The diesel spill itself had a very minor, localised and short-term impact on the Antarctic marine environment.


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Authors: Cripps, G. C., Shears, J.

1 July, 1997
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment / 46
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