Fertilizers help clean up fuel spills

Sampling site at Old Casey Station

Sampling site at Old Casey Station
Photo: Shane Powell

Bacteria found in soil can break down contaminants (hydrocarbons) from diesel and oil spills. Adding fertilizer to the soil breaks down the hydrocarbons faster. Soil from Old Casey Station was used to see how fertilization affected the hydrocarbon break-down by denitrifying bacteria. These bacteria do not require oxygen.

We saw that adding fertilizer to soil increased:

  • the numbers of denitrifying bacteria,
  • the numbers of denitrifying bacteria that degrade hydrocarbons, and
  • the amount of hydrocarbons that were degraded.

This is the first report of this microbial process (denitrification) in Antarctic soil.

A separate experiment showed that the common practice of aerating contaminated, anoxic soil initially reduced the amount of hydrocarbon degradation probably because the microbes were used to living without air and needed more time to adapt to the presence of oxygen.

Written by Shane Powell

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This page was last updated on 12 May 2006.