Our footprint on Antarctica competes with nature for rare ice-free land
Construction and operation of research stations present the most pronounced human impacts on the Antarctic continent across a wide range of environmental values. Despite Antarctic Treaty Parties committing themselves to comprehensive protection of the environment, data on the spatial extent of impacts from their activities have been limited. To quantify this, we examined the area of building and ground disturbance across the entire continent using geographic information system mapping of satellite imagery. Here, we report the footprint of all buildings to be >390,000 m2, with an additional disturbance footprint of >5,200,000 m2 just on ice-free land. These create a visual footprint similar in size to the total ice-free area of Antarctica, and impact over half of all large coastal ice-free areas. Our data demonstrate that human impacts are disproportionately concentrated in some of the most sensitive environments, with consequential implications for conservation management. This high-resolution measurement of the extent of infrastructure across the continent can be used to inform management decisions to balance sustainable scientific use and environmental protection of the Antarctic environment.