Humans maintain a presence in Antarctica and have a direct influence on some areas, particularly ice-free areas, through various activities. Continent-wide, there are about 1,100 people in winter and 4,400 people in summer on the various research stations (World Population Review 2021). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more ships and aircraft were visiting Antarctica than ever before, making pollution with hydrocarbons (fuel, oil) through leakage and spills a real risk to the environment, particularly for benthic communities (Polmear et al. 2015). Disturbance to wildlife can be an issue; this includes visits to breeding areas, and noise pollution by aircraft, ships and machinery. Even simple activities such as walking can affect habitat, particularly soils. Trampling of soils can result in their compaction, which alters the surface structure, nutrient cycles, and soil and plant communities (Tejedo et al. 2014). Antarctic stations In 2017, 29 nations collectively occupied 40 Antarctic year-round stations, and another 36 facilities operated only during summer (October to March) (COMNAP 2017). Some 27 stations had been constructed before the adoption of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty (Brooks et al. 2019). Several old, abandoned stations continue to deteriorate. In addition, field huts and refuges, weather stations, runways, historical huts and tourist camps increase the human footprint in Antarctica (Brooks et al. 2019). On the continent, construction of stations is continuing; for example, in 2018, China constructed a temporary station at Inexpressible Island, Ross Sea, while finalising a Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation for the construction of a permanent base there. Sixty stations have been built on gravel or soil sites and 17 on rock. Gravel or soil sites occupy areas that are often breeding habitat of wildlife or where terrestrial vegetation is abundant. Permanent alteration of the substratum can lead to changes in the geomorphology and water cycle, and loss of wilderness and aesthetic values (Brooks et al. 2019). Australian Antarctic stations Australia maintains 3 year-round continental research stations (Casey, Davis and Mawson), and 1 at subantarctic Macquarie Island. Remote field bases operate during the summer season, including Wilkins Aerodrome, 70 km inland from Casey Station. The station populations range from 40 to 100 expeditioners over summer, and 15 to 20 over winter. Each season, about 500 expeditioners travel south with the Australian Antarctic Program. The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) maintains an Environmental Management System (EMS) consistent with AS/NZS ISO 14001. The EMS is a systematic means of managing the AAD’s activities, using a set of operational indicators to monitor and assess human impact on the environment associated with the Australian Antarctic Program during the planning, operational and continual improvement stages. The operation of Antarctic stations requires a significant amount of energy. The total fuel consumption of Antarctic operations was relatively steady over 2015–16 to 2019–20, and ranged from 6.4 to 7.1 megalitres (ML). Shipping and aircraft operations use 40–45% and 21–24% of the total fuel, respectively (see Shipping and air operations). The remainder is used in station operations, mainly to generate electricity (Table 5). Electricity is needed to heat buildings and water tanks, to provide light, especially through the long Antarctic winter, to operate workshops, and so on. From 2015–16 to 2019–20, overall electricity use per person increased by 11.4%, from 0.166 terajoules (TJ) to 0.185 TJ (46,100 kilowatt hours (kWh) to 51,390 kWh). The total electricity generated by diesel increased by 6.5% from 18.5 TJ in 2015–16 to 21.5 TJ in 2019–20. At Mawson Station, the wind turbine has suffered some technical issues in recent years. In 2019–20, it produced only 1.7 TJ (420,200 kWh), compared with 5.9 TJ (1.64 × 106 kWh) in 2016–17, a decrease of 68% (DAWE 2020a). Table 5 Summary of environmental performance of Antarctic station operations by season Variable 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 Total waste (t) 304 177 263 252 201 Waste to landfill (t) 169 147 164 191 90 Waste recycled (t) 135 30 78 61 111 Liquid waste treated and disposed of (t) 17 43 10 22 54 Water use (ML) 6.27 6.79 6.68 6.83 6.15 Electricity generated by diesel (TJ) 18.5 19.7 20.6 21.0 21.5 Electricity generated by renewables (TJ) 5.4 5.9 4.0 2.4 1.7 Operational diesel fuel (ML) 2.27 2.09 2.25 2.39 2.46 ML = megalitre; t = tonne; TJ = terajoule Comprises diesel used for electricity generation, vehicles, plant, incinerators and boilers. Sources: DAWE (2020a); DAWE (2020b) for 2019–20 operational diesel fuel data Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share this link Water Free-flowing water for human use is greatly limited in Antarctica. On stations, water is required for domestic uses (kitchen, showers, laundries), in workshops and in other operational buildings. Water is stored in large tanks. Special tanks designated for firefighting in case of an emergency comprise two-thirds of the water stores on stations. These tanks are heated so that the water can be used all the time. Water is produced by melting snow and ice in special facilities, or, at times during summer, from seawater using reverse osmosis. Water-saving behaviours are encouraged among expeditioners. However, the consumption of water (and energy) does not always reflect the size of the station population but may reflect an increase in, or change of, activities. For example, overall water consumption increased during 2018–19 compared with previous years, as did energy consumption, although there were fewer expeditioners than in previous years (DEE 2019). Overall, water consumption increased from 6.27 ML in 2015–16 to 6.83 ML in 2018–19. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019–20 and reduced operational activities, water consumption dropped slightly to 6.15 ML (Table 5). Waste management Each year, waste and materials no longer required on station are returned to Australia for recycling, re-use or disposal. Waste typically includes general landfill and commingled recycling, such as paper, glass, aluminium and plastic (polyethylene terephthalate – PET, and high-density polyethylene – HDPE), sewage sludge, paint, oil, steel, copper, brass, building materials and laboratory chemicals. Quantities of waste returned to Australia vary annually and with capacity of ships to transport these materials. From 2015–16 to 2019–20, the amounts of liquid taken from Antarctica ranged from 10 to 54 t. Over the same period, the quantities of materials sent to landfill ranged from 90 to 191 t, but 73% more recyclable material was returned to Australia (DAWE 2020b, DAWE 2020a). Wastewater derives from various parts of a station, and includes greywater from the kitchen, showers, workshops and laboratories. This water contains a mix of contaminants, including chemicals, detergents, medications and cosmetics. Generally, wastewater treatments are used to reduce the level of nutrients and microorganisms (Corbett et al. 2014). The treated water is released into the nearshore environment, and solids are returned to Australia. Shipping and air operations Each year, various ships and aircraft transport people and goods to and from Australia’s 4 permanently occupied research stations of Casey, Davis, Mawson and Macquarie Island. During recent years, the winter populations at the Australian stations have remained relatively stable; there have typically been 16–22 people on each of the continental stations, and 13–15 on Macquarie Island. For many years, Davis Station had the largest summer population, with up to 100 personnel. However, with efforts to modernise station facilities, this number is likely to increase over the coming years. Casey Station has a much larger number of expeditioners coming and going throughout the summer season because of the improved access to Antarctica by air transport. Prevailing weather conditions do not allow use of the runway during winter. The AAD undertakes voyages for a range of purposes, primarily resupply of the stations, and deployment and retrieval of personnel, as well as marine science research. The new icebreaker RSV Nuyina (see case study: Cultural connections of RSV Nuyina) arrived in Hobart in October 2021, and will be the primary vessel used for logistics and research conducted under the Australian Antarctic Program. Occasionally, the AAD charters other vessels to augment activities, such as waste removal, Southern Ocean and marine science research activities, and transport of personnel to and from Macquarie Island. The AAD also uses a variety of aircraft to transport passengers and cargo, including the Royal Australian Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III, which has delivered heavy cargo to Wilkins Aerodrome in support of the Australian Antarctic Program. Use of this type of heavy-lift aircraft has improved the AAD’s logistical and scientific capabilities. Fuel consumption by vessels decreased by 34.7% from 3.34 ML in 2015–16 to 2.48 ML in 2019–20; fuel use by aircraft remained relatively steady, averaging 1.49 ML in this period (DAWE 2020a). Over the past 5 years, total greenhouse gas emissions (tonnes of CO2 equivalent) decreased by 10% from 19,894 t in 2015–16 to 17,917 t in 2019–20 (Table 6), partly due to variations in operational demands. Variations in the use of fuel for ships is related to the size and number of vessels used and whether or not marine science voyages are undertaken. For example, in 2017–18, the RSV Aurora Australis undertook 4 voyages, and no additional vessel was chartered as in the previous 2 seasons (Australian Antarctic Program 2021). Sea ice conditions also influence fuel use; when the sea ice extent is reduced, less fuel is required to break ice. Table 6 Summary of environmental performance of Antarctic shipping and air operations by season Variable 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 Aircraft fuel (ML) 1.49 1.56 1.57 1.55 1.31 Ship fuel (ML) 3.34 3.13 2.57 2.85 2.48 Total fuel (kL) 7.10 6.78 6.39 6.72 6.25 Total greenhouse gas emissions (t CO2 equivalent) 19,894 19,002 17,829 18,996 17,917 CO2 = carbon dioxide;kL = kilolitre; ML = megalitre; t = tonne Sources: DAWE (2020a); 2019–20: DAWE (2020b) Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share this link Case Study Cultural connections of RSV Nuyina tunapri Palawa milangkani milaythina paywuta. tunapri muylatina muka-ti, nipakawa nuritinga kani pakana milaythina & muka liyanana Antarctica. muka tina, pinungana & muta tapilti Antarctica-tu paywuta. Nuyina, lukrapina lakarana, tapilti makuminya maytawinya-ta & yula; nara kipli muka-ti mapiya Antarctica. liyanana panitha; muka ningina latu. warr! waranta pumili manina ngayapi, narakupa milaythina-nara-mapali & tina muka kitina, maytawinya lakarana. manta manta. (Tasmanian Aboriginal knowledge comes from Country, and is connected to country since the beginning of time. This knowledge embraces sea Country, and the waters which carry our stories that connect us with the icy land and seas of Antarctica. Marine animals, fish and birds migrate from northern lands to Antarctica and back, every year as they have done since creation. The big ice-breaker Nuyina follows the path of the muttonbird and whale that feed in the waters around Antarctica. But the ice is melting; ocean temperatures are rising! We must bring our planet back to life, care for our Country and the ocean’s lifeworlds – from the smallest krill to the largest whale, for all the times to come.) In palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples, with thanks to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker, RSV Nuyina (Figure 14), which arrived in Hobart in October 2021, will be the main lifeline to Australia’s Antarctic and subantarctic research stations. It will be the central platform of the nation’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research, and provide expanded and improved capabilities to manage Australia’s environmental footprint in the region. ‘nuyina’ – pronounced noy‑yee‑nah – means ‘southern lights’ in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Indigenous people. The southern lights, also known as the aurora australis, are a phenomenon in the high altitudes of the atmosphere over Antarctica that reaches northwards to light up Australian – and particularly Tasmanian – skies. The first Australian Antarctic ship, Sir Douglas Mawson’s SY Aurora, was named after the same phenomenon, as was Australia’s first icebreaker, the RSV Aurora Australis, retired from service in 2020. The name RSV Nuyina continues this theme and forms another chapter in the story of connection between Australia and Antarctica, in both human and physical terms. The naming of the RSV Nuyina recognises the long connection that Tasmanian Aboriginal people have with the evocative southern lights and the waters to the south of the island. Tasmanian Indigenous people were the most southerly on the planet during the last ice age. The adaptability and resilience of the Tasmanian Indigenous people, who travelled in canoes to small islets in the Southern Ocean, are qualities emulated by our modern-day Antarctic expeditioners as they travel south. Australian schoolchildren suggested the ship’s name through the ‘Name our Icebreaker’ competition in 2017 that aimed to engage Australian students and expand their understanding of Antarctica; its environment, climate and history; and Australia’s role there. Aboriginal language was the inspiration for one-fifth of all the valid ship names submitted by Australian children. In many of the competition entries, students spoke of their desire for reconciliation with, and recognition of, Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Using an Indigenous name for the new ship acknowledges all the children who wanted to recognise the interwoven history of Indigenous people and the great southern land – Antarctica. Tasmanian Indigenous peoples speak palawa kani today. Development of the language draws on extensive historical and linguistic research of written records and spoken recordings, and Aboriginal cultural knowledge. Since not enough remains of any of the 6–12 original Tasmanian languages to form a full language today, palawa kani combines authentic elements from many of these languages. Language workers used a standard process of linguistic analysis to transcribe early English spellings into phonetics, to compare the sounds. In this way, they could retrieve a language, as close to the original sounds as possible, and reproduce these sounds in the standardised spelling system developed for palawa kani. This language flourishes in Aboriginal community life, and 3 generations of children have grown up learning it. palawa kani features increasingly in public life, including in gazetted Tasmanian placenames. Figure 14 Australia’s new icebreaker RSV Nuyina during sea trials Expand View Figure 14 Australia’s new icebreaker RSV Nuyina during sea trials Photo: © Commonwealth of Australia 2020 Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share this link Assessment Station and human environment 2021 Adequate confidence Many aspects of the station environment are good. The treatment of waste is good, and remediation of contaminated sites is improving contamination levels. However, the overall footprint is increasing, and fuel use at stations and by vehicles is high and increasing. Legend How was this assessment made Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share this link Assessment Environmental footprint of stations 2021 Adequate confidence The human footprint is increasing through modernisation of stations and logistical requirements. Assessment Waste returned to Australia for landfill 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 The amount of waste returned to Australia depends on the cargo limits of ships and varies from year to year. Assessment Waste returned to Australia for recycling 2021 Adequate confidence Return of recyclable waste increased by 73% to 111 t over the past 5 years. Assessment Water use 2021 Adequate confidence The amount of water required varies with the number of people and operational activities. Assessment Operational fuel use (e.g. generators and boilers) 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 Quantity of fuel used is high but relatively steady at all stations. Assessment Fuel used by vehicles 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 Fuel use is highly variable at all stations. Increase in fuel use at Casey and Davis stations due to increased activities. Assessment Electricity 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 Use of electricity is linked to fuel use. The loss of wind turbines increased electricity production by diesel. Assessment Fuel use by ships 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 Vessels transport goods and people, and undertake marine science voyages. Annual fuel consumption varies, and depends on the number of voyages and sea ice conditions. Assessment Fuel use by aircraft 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 This is variable from year to year and is dependent on quantities of goods and numbers of people transported by aircraft. Assessment State of contaminated Antarctic sites 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 Remediation work is continuing and progressing. Assessment State of listed or specially protected sites in Antarctica and the subantarctic that are managed by Australia 2021 Adequate confidence 2016 2011 Management plans are in place for all protected areas.