Walking the Vestfold Hills

Treading carefully

The Vestfold Hills is one of the largest ice-free areas in Antarctica and a spectacular region for expeditioners to admire and explore.

Geologists Steph McLennan and Snowy Haiblen from Geoscience Australia are currently undertaking fieldwork this summer to better understand human impacts on these ice-free environments. With little liquid water or vegetation, our footprints in Antarctica can persist long after we’ve walked on by. Some areas recover quickly while other parts can be permanently impacted. 

Over the last few weeks, helped by sunny weather and helicopters, our team of two has sampled and observed sites across the Vestfold Hills to understand how sediments were deposited and how they may be impacted.

We also set up three experiment sites that will be revisited to test how the environment naturally recovers after being disturbed. The test sites involved taking samples and thousands of photos over a few square metres then walking back and forth, leaving hundreds of footprints behind.

These test sites will be revisited next summer to take more samples and photographs to compare what happens before and soon after disturbance and how well the environment can recover over time.

This will include mapping and sampling even more of the Vestfold Hills to piece together the geological past which will help us predict how areas will react to disturbance. The information from this multi-year project will support decisions about rehabilitation and environmental management not only in the Vestfolds but other ice-free areas in Antarctica.