The type and spatial distribution of past waste at the abandoned Wilkes Station, East Antarctica

Kirstie Fryirs, Ian Snape, Nadia Babicka

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Legacy waste is a significant problem in Antarctica. This is particularly the case where waste generated on stations prior to the 1980s was incinerated, placed in landfill sites or disposed of at sea. Although several Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) reports from the 1980s recognise that there are contaminated sites at the abandoned Wilkes Station, there has been no systematic attempt to classify the waste or define the spatial scale of the problem, making development of strategic and systematic clean-up or preservation programmes difficult. This article reports on a project to classify the waste remaining on Clark Peninsula using categories listed in Annex III, Article 2 of the Madrid Protocol (1991). 536 sites with one or more waste items have been identified in nine categories that are based on the degree of waste hazard, recyclability, heritage value and waste management potential. Fuel drums, petroleum hydrocarbons waste and contaminated sediment occur at 38% of the sites. This waste includes around 1020 partially full fuel drums. Heritage items that illustrate expedition life at Wilkes occur at about 10% of the sites. Solid, non-combustible waste, including scrap metal, copper wire and pipe, and steel mechanical parts, occurs at 25% of the sites. Potentially hazardous or harmful waste including electrical batteries, plastics including fuel bladders, food remains, treated timber and containers containing persistent compounds occur at 28% of sites. Although hazardous substances, such as caustic soda, explosives and asbestos, occur at only 9% of the sites, these items represent significant contamination and heath issues for the sites and for visiting explorers. Any future clean-up operations will require more than just the physical removal of waste. Preservation, removal and treatment of various types of waste from Wilkes will be required as part of a multi-year, multi-strategy approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-347
Number of pages20
JournalPolar Record
Issue number251
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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