The influence of seasonal environmental variables on the distribution of presumptive fecal coliforms around an Antarctic research station
Factors affecting fecal microorganism survival and distribution in the Antarctic marine environment include solar radiation, water salinity, temperature, sea ice conditions, and fecal input by humans and local wildlife populations. This study assessed the influence of these factors on the distribution of presumptive fecal coliforms around Rothera Point, Adelaide Island, Antarctic Peninsula during the austral summer and winter of February 1999 to September 1999. Each factor had a different degree of influence depending on the time of year. In summer (February), although the station population was high, presumptive fecal coliform concentrations were low, probably due to the biologically damaging effects of solar radiation. However, summer algal blooms reduced penetration of solar radiation into the water column. By early winter (April), fecal coliform concentrations were high, due to increased fecal input by migrant wildlife, while solar radiation doses were low. By late winter (September), fecal coliform concentrations were high near the station sewage outfall, as sea ice formation limited solar radiation penetration into the sea and prevented wind-driven water circulation near the outfall. During this study, environmental factors masked the effect of station population numbers on sewage plume size. If sewage production increases throughout the Antarctic, environmental factors may become less significant and effective sewage waste management will become increasingly important. These findings highlight the need for year-round monitoring of fecal coliform distribution in Antarctic waters near research stations to produce realistic evaluations of sewage pollution persistence and dispersal.