O'Neill, T. A., Balks, M. R., López-Martínez, J., & McWhirter, J. L. (2012). A method for assessing the physical recovery of Antarctic desert pavements following human-induced disturbances: A case study in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Journal of Environmental Management, 112, 415-428.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/6710
With increasing visitor numbers an understanding of the impacts of human activities in Antarctic terrestrial environments has become important. The objective of this study was to develop a means for assessing recovery of the ground surface desert pavement following physical disturbance. A set of 11 criteria were identified to assess desert pavement recovery. Assessed criteria were: embeddedness of surface clasts; impressions of removed clasts; degree of clast surface weathering; % overturned clasts; salt on underside of clasts; development of salt coatings; armouring per m ²; colour contrast; evidence of subsidence/melt out; accumulation of salt on cut surfaces; and evidence of patterned ground development. Recovery criteria were assigned a severity/extent rating on a scale from zero to four, zero being highly disturbed, and four being undisturbed. A relative % recovery for each criteria was calculated for each site by comparison with a nearby undisturbed control area, and an overall Mean Recovery Index (MRI) was assigned to each pavement surface.To test the method, 54 sites in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica were investigated including areas disturbed by: bulldozer scraping for road-fill, contouring for infrastructure, geotechnical investigations, and experimental treading trial sites. Disturbances had occurred at timescales ranging from one week to 50 years prior to assessment. The extent of desert pavement recovery at the sites investigated in this study was higher than anticipated. Fifty of the 54 sites investigated were in an intermediate, or higher, stage of desert pavement recovery, 30 sites were in an advanced stage of recovery, and four sites were indistinguishable from adjacent control sites (MRI = 100%). It was found that active surfaces, such as the gravel beach deposits at the Greenpeace World Park Base site at Cape Evans, the aeolian sand deposits at Bull Pass, and the alluvial fan deposits of the Loop Moraine field campsite, recovered relatively quickly, whereas less active sites, such as the bulldozed tracks at Marble Point, and Williams Field to McMurdo Station pipeline site on Ross Island, showed only intermediate recovery 20-30 years after disturbance. The slabby grano-diorite surface material at the former Vanda Station site, meant that the impacts that had occurred were hard to detect following decommissioning of the station and site remediation. Desert pavements disturbed by randomly dispersed footprints, temporary field campsites at the Loop Moraine and VXE6 Pond in the Wright Valley, recovered to be undetectable (MRI = 100%) within five years, whereas track formation from repeated trampling, particularly the concentration of larger clasts along the margin of a confined track, persisted for over 15 years (MRI = 82%). The recovery assessment method developed in this study has environmental management applications and potential to advance our ability to predict the recovery of desert pavement following human impacts from activities in Antarctica