Terrestrial and coastal ecosystems research

Remediation at the Main Power House fuel spill site. Contaminated soil is being excavated in front of the permeable reactive barrier (lower right of photo) and placed into biopile 6. Biopiles 1-5 can be seen with their covers on. Aeration systems are visible between the biopiles.
Remediation at the Main Power House fuel spill site at Casey station. Contaminated soil is being excavated in front of a permeable reactive barrier (lower right of photo) and placed into biopiles. (Photo: Rebecca McWatters)
One of the experimental chambers in place on the sea floor of O’Brien Bay, attached to its duct (‘slinky’), which delivers carbon dioxide-enriched seawater from the surface
Our terrestrial and nearshore (coastal) ecosystems research investigates the effects of environmental change on Antarctic and subantarctic terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. It provides the scientific basis to guide enhanced environmental protection for these ecosystems.

Research is conducted in three key areas:

The research aims to:

  • identify ecosystem sensitivities and vulnerabilities to environmental stressors
  • identify signals of ecosystem change caused by human activity
  • provide a scientific foundation for a system of spatial management and area protection in Antarctica
  • provide a scientific and technical foundation for practical measures to prevent, mitigate or remediate detrimental change caused by human activity.

Our work also focuses on the implications of climate change to management of the Antarctic and identifying climate change effects on sensitive components of ecosystems. These sensitive ecosystem components may be important ‘sentinels’ – providing early indications of ecosystem responses to change in both the Antarctic and in other parts of the world.

This research builds on work undertaken over the past 20 years. For example, we established the world’s first dedicated Antarctic human impacts research program in the early 1990s, which supports environmental management of human activities in Antarctica. This includes contaminated site clean-up and remediation, and the development of technologies for excavation, remediation and site stabilisation under Antarctic conditions. 

Experimental studies of disturbance to Antarctic wildlife from visitors, vehicles and aircraft have formed the basis of guidelines for minimising disturbance. We have also developed risk assessments for introduced non-native species, such as plant seeds and microbial pathogens, and response plans and protocols to reduce the risks of non-native incursions.

Our terrestrial research contributes to Australia’s commitment to protecting the Antarctic environment by:

  • fulfilling Australia's obligations under the Madrid Protocol and other international agreements, national legislation and government initiatives and policies;
  • supporting governance of the Australian Antarctic Territory;
  • supporting Australia’s policy positions at the Antarctic Treaty meetings – principally the Committee for Environment Protection meetings.

Read more about this research in the Science Strategic Plan.