Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 January 2013
Sites of past human activity were investigated to assess the visual recovery of the desert pavement following impacts from human trampling and vehicle traffic. Visually disturbed and nearby control sites were assessed using comparative photographic records, a field-based Visual Site Assessment, and Desert Pavement Recovery Assessment. Sites included: vehicle and walking tracks at Marble Point and Taylor Valley; a campsite, experimental treading trial site, and vehicle tracks in Wright Valley; and vehicle and walking tracks at Cape Roberts. The time since last disturbance ranged from three months to over 50 years. This investigation also attempted to determine what has the greatest lasting visual impact on soil surfaces in the Ross Sea region: dispersed trafficking or track formation? Walking tracks remained visible in the landscape (due to larger clasts concentrating along track margins) long after the desert pavement surface had recovered. However, randomly dispersed footprints were undetectable within five years. For many sites, allowing widespread trampling will give lower medium-term visible impact than concentrating traffic flow by track formation. For steep slopes and sites where repeated visits occur, use of a single track is recommended. Some 1950s vehicle tracks remain visible in the Antarctic landscape, but where visually obvious impacts were remediated, evidence of former occupation was almost undetectable.