Antarctic Soils

Welcome to Antarctic Soils

The Antarctic Soils project has been running since 1990 with a variety of different parts to the project. Recent parts to the project include: soil mapping in the Wright Valley, rates of recovery of soils following human disturbances and soil characterisation and soil landscape relationships in the Beardmore Glacier Region of Antarctica.


Project leader 

Dr Megan Balks

Adjunct Senior Fellow of the School of Science, University of Waikato

History of the project:

Megan has been involved in research related to Antarctic soils since 1990 and she has completed 19 fieldtrips to “the ice”. A large portion of her work has related to assessing the impacts of human activities on Antarctic soils and terrestrial environments. Her work commenced researching impacts on soil properties, and the ice content of permafrost, following physical disturbance with Dr Graeme Claridge and Ian Campbell – two pioneers of Antarctic soil science. Megan has since had a long association with Landcare Research where her collaborative work (led by Dr Jackie Aislabie from Landcare Research) has focused on disturbances such as effects of oil spills, and the rate of recovery of soils from both hydrocarbon contamination and other disturbances. More recently her work has focused on better defining the spatial distribution of soils to underpin interpretive maps on soil vulnerability to disturbance and to better characterise the extent and distribution of Antarctic soils.

Dr Balks has also been part of the establishment and management of a network of Antarctic soil/permafrost climate monitoring stations in collaboration with Landcare Research and the USDA. The climate station data contributes to the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) network.

Megan is an active member of the Antarctic Permafrost and Soils (ANTPAS) group – an international group bringing Antarctic soil and permafrost researchers together, working towards a common goal of establishing a co-ordinated soil map of the entire Antarctic Continent and coordinating soil and permafrost temperature data collection.

Current work:

Megan is currently working with Tanya O’Neill on establishing a baseline environmental monitoring programme for Scott Base.  MSc student Annette Carshalton is working with Megan on analysing the soil climate data – we now have 18 years of soil and permafrost temperature data for 9 sites that represent the range of climates within the McMurdo dry valleys and southern Ross Sea coastline.

Megan is convener for “SouthCOP” the first International Permafrost Association Southern hemisphere Conference on Permafrost which will be held in Queenstown in December 2019.  A focus of the conference will be exploring the Southern Alps past and present glacial geomorphology, permafrost and periglacial features.  Fieldtrips will travel from Christchurch to Queenstown via the Mount Cook National Park and Tasman glacier, 4 days in Queenstown for paper and poster presentations, along with a one day local fieldtrip, followed by return to Christchurch via South-westland, the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers, and the Haast and Arthurs Pass roads across the Alps.  Participants will be able to participate in all, or any one of the three segments of the conference.  

Drilling to establish permafrost temperature monitoring in the Wright Valley
Victoria Valley soil climate monitoring station