Mothballed military outposts with piles of rusting oil drums are not an unusual sight in Greenland. There are about 30 abandoned military installations in Greenland and diesel that was once used to operate generators and other machinery has, in many cases, seeped into the ground.
Removing tons of contaminated soil from these sites is incredibly resource-intensive involving the use of aircraft and ships, so it has not really been practical. As a result, Danish Defense and the engineering company NIRAS instead conducted a five-year experiment to optimize the conditions for naturally occurring soil bacteria to break down the contaminating diesel.
The experiment was performed at Station 9117 Mestersvig, an abandoned military airfield on the coast of East Greenland. Forty tons of diesel fuel contaminated the soil there.
The remediation method using bacteria is known as landfarming and has most often been applied in warmer climates around the world. This was the first large-scale test under Arctic conditions.
Landfarming works by distributing contaminated soil in a thin layer, which is then plowed, fertilized, and oxygenated every year to optimize conditions for bacteria to degrade hydrocarbons.
The site was monitored by scientists from the University of Copenhagen, and they found that after five years, the bacteria had bioremediated as much as 82 percent of the 5,000 tons of contaminated soil on the site.
Based on these results, it appears to be feasible for naturally occurring bacteria to be used to remediate contamination in all of the 30 deserted military installations in Greenland as well as in other Arctic sites contaminated by diesel pollution.
Bacteria used to clean diesel-polluted soil in Greenland
Photo, posted September 6, 2013, courtesy of Maj. Matthew J. Sala/The U.S. Air National Guard via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.