Environmental pollutants from the Scott and Shackleton expeditions during the ‘Heroic Age’ of Antarctic exploration

Robert A Blanchette, Benjamin W Held, Joel A. Jurgens, Jackie Aislabie, Shona Duncan, Roberta L. Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Early explorers to Antarctica built wooden huts and brought huge quantities of supplies and equipment to support their geographical and scientific studies for several years. When the expeditions ended and relief ships arrived, a rapid exodus frequently allowed only essential items to be taken north. The huts and thousands of items were left behind. Fuel depots with unused containers of petroleum products, asbestos materials, and diverse chemicals were also left at the huts. This investigation found high concentrations of polyaromatic hydrocarbons in soils under and around the historic fuel depots, including anthracene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, chrysene, fluorene, and pyrene, as well as benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, and fluoranthene, which are recognized carcinogens. Asbestos materials within the huts have been identified and extensive amounts of fragmented asbestos were found littering the ground around the Cape Evans hut. These materials are continually abraded and fragmented as tourists walk over them and the coarse scoria breaks and grinds down the materials. A chemical spill, within the Cape Evans hut, apparently from caustic substances from one of the scientific experiments, has caused an unusual deterioration and defibration on affected woods. Although these areas are important historic sites protected by international treaties, the hazardous waste materials left by the early explorers should be removed and remedial action taken to restore the site to as pristine a condition as possible. Recommendations are discussed for international efforts to study and clean up these areas, where the earliest environmental pollution in Antarctica was produced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-151
Number of pages9
JournalPolar Record
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004


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