Permeable bio-reactive barriers to address petroleum hydrocarbon contamination at subantarctic Macquarie Island Academic Article uri icon


  • A reliance on diesel generated power and a history of imperfect fuel management have created a legacy of petroleum hydrocarbon contamination at subantarctic Macquarie Island. Increasing environmental awareness and advances in contaminant characterisation and remediation technology have fostered an impetus to reduce the environmental risk associated with legacy sites. A funnel and gate permeable bio-reactive barrier (PRB) was installed in 2014 to address the migration of Special Antarctic Blend diesel from a spill that occurred in 2002, as well as older spills and residual contaminants in the soil at the Main Power House. The PRB gate comprised of granular activated carbon and natural clinoptilolite zeolite. Petroleum hydrocarbons migrating in the soil water were successfully captured on the reactive materials, with concentrations at the outflow of the barrier recorded as being below reporting limits. The nutrient and iron concentrations delivered to the barrier demonstrated high temporal variability with significant iron precipitation observed across the bed. The surface of the granular activated carbon was largely free from cell attachment while natural zeolite demonstrated patchy biofilm formation after 15 months following PRB installation. This study illustrates the importance of informed material selection at field scale to ensure that adsorption and biodegradation processes are utilised to manage the environmental risk associated with petroleum hydrocarbon spills. This study reports the first installation of a permeable bio-reactive barrier in the subantarctic.

publication date

  • May 2017