Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Seabirds Breeding on the Western Antarctic Peninsula

EPA Grant Number: FP916329
Title: Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Seabirds Breeding on the Western Antarctic Peninsula
Investigators: Geisz, Heidi N.
Institution: College of William and Mary-VA
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $68,436
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Oceanography and Coastal Processes , Academic Fellowships , Aquatic Ecosystems


The objectives of this study are to: (1) establish baseline levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in three species of seabirds breeding on the West Antarctic Peninsula: Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae), south polar skuas (Catharacta maccormicki), and southern giant petrels (Macronectes gigantus); (2) compare POP levels within the various bird species based on migratory patterns and trophic level; (3) establish long-term trends for DDT residues in Adélie penguins; and (4) verify the use of nonlethal sampling techniques (e.g., collection of blood and preen oil) as surrogates for determining POP levels in seabird tissues.


Antarctic seabirds, including Adélie penguins, south polar skuas, and southern giant petrels, are higher trophic level predators that will integrate POP levels present in the marine food webs in which they forage. Each of these species breeds in Antarctica during summer, facilitating simultaneous evaluation of the levels of POPs in these bird populations; however, the post-breeding migratory patterns of these Antarctic seabirds differ in offering the opportunity to examine the global distribution of POPs. Necropsies were performed on all three seabird species collected post mortem on the West Antarctic Peninsula, specifically the Anvers Island (67º 46′ S, 68º 54′ W) vicinity. Heart, liver, subcutaneous fat, and preening glands were collected in muffled jars using stainless steel, solvent-cleaned instruments. Addled eggs of all three species were also collected throughout the breeding season (November 2003-March 2004). The samples will be extracted and analyzed for POPs including organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, and brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) via gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Differences in POP levels in the Antarctic seabird species will be evaluated using principal components analysis; regression analysis also will be used to evaluate long-term trends for POPs in the bird species.

As a result of the stability and lipophilic nature of POPs, they bioaccumulate in organisms and biomagnify in higher trophic level animals. Little is known about the levels of POPs in some Antarctic organisms (e.g., southern giant petrels), as well as the long-term trends of POPs in the Antarctic ecosystem.

The expected results of this study will help to establish solid reasoning for policy change regarding pollutants currently produced and used in the United States, such as BDEs, and to further understand the impacts of pollutants, such as DDT, on this fragile ecosystem.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, seabirds, Antarctic, persistent organic pollutants, southern giant petrels, south polar skua, Adelie penguin,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Monitoring/Modeling, Environmental Monitoring, marine food web, trophic levels, seabirds, migratory patterns, aquatic toxins, DDT residues

Relevant Websites:

2004 STAR Graduate Fellowship Conference Poster (PDF, 1p., 825KB, about PDF)

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005
  • Final