Issues Magazine

Articles about pollution

Petroleum and Polar Pollution

By Kathryn Mumford and Geoff Stevens

The Arctic and Antarctic often conjure images of pristine expanses of ice and snow, with unique flora and fauna. The unfortunate reality is not nearly as romantic: amid the rare wildlife and extreme conditions, human activities have left a legacy of contamination.

Oil and fuel contaminants are among the most extensive and environmentally damaging pollution problems in polar regions. As well as the immediate negative impact on the sensitive sea and land environments, fuel from spills in polar regions remains for 10–100 years longer than in temperate regions. Low nutrient contents, cold temperatures and dry conditions all preclude the presence of microbial populations that could otherwise degrade the hydrocarbons found in spilled fuel. If significant ongoing environmental damage from spills is to be prevented, intervention is critical.