The ecology of two meltwater streams on King George Island, Ornithologists Creek (with penguin rookeries close to its lower reaches) and Petrified Forest Creek (a highly oligotrophic system), was studied during the 1996–97 summer season. To estimate seasonal productivity of the periphyton and to establish which environmental parameters influenced periphyton growth most strongly, two types of artificial substrata (fibreglass nets – ash-free dry weight (AFDW), and microscope slides – Chlorophyll a (Chl a)) were tested in situ. Thus relative periphyton productivity (RPP) reflects algal colonization and growth as well as losses due to cell mortality and abrasive action of moving sediments. The Petrified Forest Creek was more productive (AFDW = 108.63 μg cm−2 d−1, Chl a = 0.35 μg g cm−2 d−1) than the Ornithologists Creek (AFDW = 69.90 μg cm−2 d−-1, Chl a = 0.26 μg cm−2 d−1). RPP differed both along the streams, and during the season. Significant positive or negative relationships (generalized linear models) were found between RPP and streamwater ‘physico-chemical parameters’ and ‘geomorphological-geographical characteristics’ of the streams' catchments. In addition, in the lower reaches of both streams almost no active colonization or growth was recorded. In the Petrified Forest Creek, the periphyton biomass was so high that mainly passive organic matter deposition occurred. By contrast, in the lower reach of Ornithologists Creek, periphyton colonization and growth was around zero, being negatively influenced by penguin excrement. Ornithologists Creek was richer in nutrients (DIN, DRP), which also fluctuated more widely along its length and throughout the season, than in the Petrified Forest Creek. Parameters associated with the inorganic carbon cycle of the streamwater reflect higher RPP in Petrified Forest Creek. Moreover, RPP was higher in stream reaches with higher amounts of gravel boulders on the bottom.