Content of Trace Elements in Soils of Eastern Antarctica: Variability Across Landscapes

Abstract

Although Antarctica is considered one of the most pristine areas on Earth, an accelerating human presence in this remote continent, such as scientific operations and functioning of numerous scientific stations, logistics, and tourism activities, has increased the risks of environmental impacts in recent decades. During the 63rd Russian Antarctic expedition, 42 samples from topsoil horizons were collected from Larsemann Hills, Mirny station, and Fulmar Island, Eastern Antarctica. The purpose of this work was to analyze the accumulation levels 8 trace elements and to assess possible environmental risks associated with contamination of Antarctic soils. Various human activities have been found to be responsible for increase of metal levels in studied Antarctic environments. Our study also revealed a specific role of ornithogenic factor and moss cover in distribution of contaminants in severe conditions of Eastern Antarctica soils. Ornithogenic soils were characterized by higher rates of accumulation of some trace metals and metalloids (especially zinc and copper) compared with other investigated “pristine” sites without significantly visible traces of guano inputs. In general term, obtained geoaccumulation index for trace elements in all samples were under or slightly above the 0 level, indicating low to moderate pollution of the studied soils. Results of principal component analysis revealed the necessity for further detailed research on interactions of trace metals with soil organic matter for better understanding of their biogeochemistry in the Antarctic environment. Although most of contaminated sites were found in anthropogenically affected areas, accumulation of some elements in guano-derived and moss materials were associated with higher values for soil pollution indices in natural soils, as well.

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Funding

This study was supported by Russian Scientific Foundation for Basic Research, Grants No. 19-54-18003 “Assessment of regional contribution of soils of Antarctic Islands into global carbon balance including degree of stabilization and humification of organic matter”; 19-05-50107 “The role of organic matter microparticles in degradation of glacier cover of polar regions and formation of soil-like bodies”; 18-04-00900 “Ornithogenic soils of Antarctica: formation, geography and biogeochemistry” and Russian Antarctic Expedition (Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, Saint Petersburg, Russia).

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Alekseev, I., Abakumov, E. Content of Trace Elements in Soils of Eastern Antarctica: Variability Across Landscapes. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 80, 368–388 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-021-00808-4

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