Long-term changes in contamination and macrobenthic communities adjacent to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
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Improved waste management at McMurdo Station, Antarctica beginning in the 1980s has been followed by decreases in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and metal contamination in the adjacent marine sediments. However, determining the effect of the decreased contamination on marine ecological indicators (macrobenthic fauna) is confounded by concurrent changes in climate cycles and other physical forces. Between 2000 and 2013, there was a decrease in concentrations of some contaminants including mercury, copper, organochlorines, and PAHs in marine sediments adjacent to McMurdo Station. PAH concentrations in Winter Quarters Bay decreased an order of magnitude from 2000/2003 to 2012/2013 and were within an order of magnitude of reference area concentrations by 2013. Macrobenthic communities did not indicate any sign of recovery and have not become more similar to reference communities over this same period of time. Temporal changes in macrobenthic community composition during the study period had higher correlations with climatic and sea ice dynamics than with changes in contaminant concentrations. The Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation climatic index had the highest correlation with macrobenthic community composition. The Antarctic Oscillation climatic index, maximum ice extent and other natural environmental factors also appear to influence macrobenthic community composition. Despite large improvements in environmental management at McMurdo Station, continuing environmental vigilance is necessary before any noticeable improvement in ecological systems is likely to occur. The effects of climate must be considered when determining temporal changes in anthropogenic effects in Antarctica. Maintaining long-term monitoring of both contaminants and ecological indicators is important for determining the localized and global influences of humans on Antarctica, which will have implications for the whole planet.