Mr Tim Spedding - environmental remediation scientist

Mr Tim Spedding

Video transcript

I’ve spent approximately eight summers in the Antarctic, and I loved that experience.

I also really love the work because it does have real tangible environmental improvements.

So I lead a team of multidisciplinary scientists and engineers, looking at and assessing the human impacts in the Antarctic and this is primarily around contaminants, fuels and heavy metals.

Remediation in the environmental context means the improvement of soil or water back towards its original state.

The reason we need to remediate sites in Antarctica is that, as part of the Antarctic Treaty, all nations that work down there have an obligation to clean up their waste disposal sites and minimise their environmental impact.

There are lots of technologies in the world that have been used in temperate conditions but have never been applied to the Antarctic, and our role is taking these technologies, modifying these technologies, and assessing if they can work to clean up contaminated sites in the Antarctic.

One remediation technology that we are very familiar with is bioremediation, which is using the natural or the native microorganisms in the soil, in Antarctica, to degrade fuel.

Ultimately our aim for our research is to be used by other nations. They’ll take our information and they’ll be able to make informed decisions to remediate and clean up contaminated sites around their stations.

[end transcript]

Tim Spedding: BSc (Hons), MSc

Research interests

I’m involved in a mixture of research and applied science that focuses on reducing the impact that humans have on our polar regions. This involves the assessment and clean-up of legacy and contemporary contaminated sites in the arctic and Antarctic.

As part of the Australian Antarctic Program, my emphasis has been on the research and application of soil and water remediation technologies at sites in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic affected by fuel spills and heavy metals.

I am a geologist and soil scientist by training, having studied at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) and McGill University (Montreal) in Canada. For the first seven years of my career I worked with industry and government studying and remediating the effects of oil and gas exploration, production and mining in the Canadian arctic. Since 2008 I have had the good fortune of working with and leading a highly experienced team of chemists, engineers and remediation scientists as part of the Human Impacts and Remediation team at the Australian Antarctic Division.

This diverse team works collaboratively with university partners to determine what remediation techniques work, or don’t work, in the unique and logistically challenging Antarctic environment. We then implement these techniques for the full scale remediation of selected sites.

Starting remediation is one thing, but knowing when to stop remediation is equally important. This requires an informed understanding of environmental risk, soil health and the environmental values that are trying to be protected, or improved. As such, our key areas of investigation include:

  • Bioremediation (supporting native Antarctic soil microbes to degrade fuel and remediate soil).
  • Permeable reactive barriers and water treatment to prevent migration of, and treat, contaminants in water.
  • Using liners and containment systems to contain waste during the remediation process.
  • Vapour intrusion and protection of human health.
  • Trialling and developing “plug and play” containerized systems for soil and water clean-up.
  • Using emerging remediation technologies (e.g. electrokinetics) to make remediation processes faster or more efficient.
  • Understanding what a healthy and functioning Antarctic soil is, the effects of contaminants and remediation processes on soil health and determining remediation end-points to allow for risk-based decisions on reusing remediated soil.

The work that the Human Impacts and Remediation team does is very applied and results in tangible environmental improvements. In addition to cleaning up contaminated sites, our team has a tremendous opportunity to positively influence the science that supports management, protection and restoration in the Antarctic for use by all Antarctic Treaty nations, and ensure that government policy and management decisions are fully informed by science.

Current projects

Key outcome areas

  • Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP): Scientific papers that support Australia’s leadership in environmental science, remediation and risk assessment in Antarctica
  • Australian Antarctic Program Science Strategic Plan (Theme 2: Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems: Environmental Change and Conservation, Stream 2.3: Human Impacts: prevention, mitigation and remediation.
  • Contributions to polar environmental assessment, remediation and management research.
  • Australian Antarctic Division Strategies Branch (Policy) and Support Centre (Operations)

International/national collaborations

  • International engagement through science (most recently through the Brazilian and Argentinian Antarctic programs, Danish Government [for remediation in Greenland] and the MASDAR Institute (UAE)
  • University of Melbourne, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – Dr Kathryn Mumford and Dr Geoff Stevens
  • University of New South Wales, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences – Dr Belinda Ferrari
  • Queens University (Canada), Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (Civil Engineering) – Professor Kerry Rowe
  • Monash University
  • Contaminants in Frozen Ground Conferences

Related links

Selected Publications

McWatters, R.S, Rowe, R.K., Wilkins, D., Spedding, T., Hince, G., Richardson, J., Snape, I. (2018) Modelling of vapour intrusion into a building impacted by a fuel spill in Antarctica Journal of Environmental Management. Journal of Environmental Management. In Press.

Errington, I, King, C.K., Wilkins, D., Spedding, T., Hose, G.C. (2017) Ecosystem effects and the management of petroleum-contaminated soils on subantarctic islands. Chemosphere 194.

Freidman, B., Terry, D., Wilkins, D. Spedding, T., Gras, S., Snape, I., Stevens, G., Mumford, K.M. (2017) Permeable bio-reactive barriers to address petroleum hydrocarbon contamination at subantarctic Macquarie Island. Chemosphere 174.

McWatters, R.S., Wilkins, D., Spedding, T., Hince, G., Raymond, B., Lagerewskij, G., Terry, D., Wise, L., and I. Snape. (2016). On-site remediation of a fuel spill and soil reuse in Antarctica. Science of the Total Environment 571.

See more publications in ResearchGate