Environmental Analyst with the Brazilian Antarctic Program, Ms Bianca Mattos, recently spent two months at the Australian Antarctic Division, exchanging information on the two countries’ environmental activities, protocols and procedures in Antarctica.
Ms Mattos has a varied role in the Brazilian Environment Ministry, which is part of the Brazilian Antarctic program (Programa Antártico Brasileiro — PROANTAR). This includes undertaking environmental impact assessments for scientific, logistic and tourism activities in Antarctica, providing environmental training for expeditioners, and overseeing a program to remediate the site of Brazil’s former Comandante Ferraz station, which was destroyed by fire in 2012.
With the new Brazilian station due to begin construction in 2015–16, Ms Mattos was particularly interested in Australia’s Antarctic soil remediation efforts and spent two weeks at Casey station with the remediation team.
Like areas around Casey station affected by fuel spills, some of the soil at the site of the former Brazilian station is contaminated with hydrocarbons.
At Casey, scientists are using ‘biopiles’ to remediate affected soils (Australian Antarctic Magazine 27: 1–3, 2014). These mounds of soil contain naturally occurring microbes that break down hydrocarbons when moisture, nutrient and temperature conditions are optimised. The Brazilian program is applying similar techniques, modified to accommodate the particular characteristics of its station site.
‘Because space is limited, and the new station will be built over the contaminated site, we are seeking to retain and remediate the soil in situ,’ Ms Mattos said.
‘So we dig it out, add nutrients to enhance the microbial action, and then put the soil back in the hole, which is first lined with an impermeable barrier.
‘Unlike the approach used at Casey, this means the soil cannot be regularly turned and aerated, so remediation is slower, but it will allow us to proceed with constructing the new station.’
As the new Brazilian station will be built on stilts over the remediation site, this will allow air circulation above the soil and will enable access by scientists to monitor the remediation process.
Ms Mattos intends to draw on her observations and experiences from Casey when planning for further work at the Brazilian station site over the coming summer season. Her team aims to build a second biopile in the traditional mounded style and will compare its remediation progression with the first site. Ms Mattos is also interested in following Australia’s trial of biopiles within shipping containers.
‘If it works, this method may allow us to make the best use of space by stacking containers on top of each other,’ she said.
Ms Mattos said she felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to exchange information and ideas with Australia and hoped that similar initiatives could become a broader practice amongst Antarctic nations.
The Australian Antarctic Division has previously hosted a Japanese scientist to learn about Australia’s approach to remediation of the Casey site, and is working to disseminate information to assist other nations to address their own remediation challenges.