Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Greenland Ice Core Reveals History Of Pollution In The Arctic

Date:
August 20, 2008
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
New research, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that coal burning, primarily in North America and Europe, contaminated the Arctic and potentially affected human health and ecosystems in and around Earth's polar regions.

Records taken from a Greenland ice core showed pollution from coal burning in North America and Europe that traveled through the atmosphere and deposited in the Arctic Region was higher 100 years ago, confounding researcher expectations that pollution was at its peak in the 1960s and '70s. This image is of an ice core sample sitting on a melter head in the research facility. The longitudinal ice core sample falls by gravity onto the heated melter plate and the melt water split into three streams by grooves etched into the melter head. Only the inner most 10 percent of the melt water is used for ultra-trace elemental measurements. The middle 20 percent used for major ions and particle size determinations. The potentially contamined outer 70 percent of the melt water is discarded.
Credit: Joseph McConnell, Desert Research Institute

Coal burning, primarily in North America and Europe, contaminated the Arctic and potentially affected human health and ecosystems in and around Earth's polar regions, according to new research.

The study was conducted by the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Reno, Nev. and partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

Detailed measurements from a Greenland ice core showed pollutants from burning coal--the toxic heavy metals cadmium, thallium and lead--were much higher than expected. The catch, however, was the pollutants weren't higher at the times when researchers expected peaks.

"Conventional wisdom held that toxic heavy metals were higher in the 1960s and ‘70s, the peak of industrial activity in Europe and North America and certainly before implementation of Clean Air Act controls in the early 1970s," said Joe McConnell, lead researcher and director of DRI's Ultra-Trace Chemistry Laboratory.

"But it turns out pollution in southern Greenland was higher 100 years ago when North American and European economies ran on coal, before the advent of cleaner, more efficient coal burning technologies and the switch to oil and gas-based economies," McConnell said.

In fact, the research showed pollutants were two to five times higher at the beginning of the previous century than today. Pollution levels in the early 1900s also represented a 10-fold increase from preindustrial levels.

Continuous, monthly and annually averaged pollution records taken from the Greenland ice core dating from 1772-2003 produced the results. And although data showed heavy-metal pollution in the North Atlantic sector of the Arctic is substantially lower today than a century ago, McConnell and his research partner, Ross Edwards, an associate research professor at DRI, said there is still cause for concern.

"Contamination of other sectors may be increasing because of the rapid coal-driven growth of Asian economies," they wrote in the report. They argued the consequence may be greater risk to the food chain as toxic heavy metals from industrial activities in Asian nations are transported through the atmosphere and deposited in the polar regions.

Food chain contamination through toxic metal absorption from both the environment and from consumption of contaminated food sources could make its way to humans, who feed on long-lived land and marine animals such as caribou, seals and whale.

"Impacts on human health in the Arctic region haven't been determined," said McConnell. But he suggested cleaner burning coal technologies, or better yet reduced reliance on coal burning, may head off the potential problem.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. McConnell et al. Coal burning leaves toxic heavy metal legacy in the Arctic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2008 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803564105

Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Greenland Ice Core Reveals History Of Pollution In The Arctic." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080819160103.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2008, August 20). Greenland Ice Core Reveals History Of Pollution In The Arctic. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 3, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080819160103.htm
National Science Foundation. "Greenland Ice Core Reveals History Of Pollution In The Arctic." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080819160103.htm (accessed September 3, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands of Fish Dead in Mexico Lake

Raw: Thousands of Fish Dead in Mexico Lake

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Over 53 tons of rotting fish have been removed from Lake Cajititlan in western Jalisco state. Authorities say that the thousands of fish did not die of natural causes. (Sep. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Iceland Volcano Spewing Smoke

Raw: Iceland Volcano Spewing Smoke

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — The alert warning for the area surrounding Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano was kept at orange on Tuesday, indicating increased unrest with greater potential for an eruption. Smoke is spewing from the volcano, and lava is spouting nearby. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Halliburton's agreement to pay more than $1 billion to settle numerous claims involving the 2010 BP oil spill could be a way to diminish years of costly litigation. A federal judge still has to approve the settlement. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins