The Arctic Ocean and Contaminants: Pathways That Lead to Us
The Arctic Ocean has long been perceived as the last pristine bastion on the globe because it is isolated from industry and population by vast distances. Slowly we have become aware that the Arctic is not only firmly connected to the rest of the globe but that it is especially vulnerable to some of the contaminants being transported. Arctic haze was first noticed in the 1950s. A decade later organochlorine pesticide residues were found in arctic marine mammals. Surprisingly, it took more than another decade to discover elevated PCBs and toxaphene in humans. Five years of research under Canada’s Northern Contaminants Program followed by comprehensive international assessments of contamination in the Arctic have produced a clearer understanding of where contaminants are coming from, how they have been delivered and who they are aimed at. Two transporting fluids play a key role — the atmosphere and the ocean. However, it is specific biogeochemical pathways that deliver the unpleasant surprises. For many contaminants we have already “turned off the tap” but, unfortunately, the historical releases continue to cycle globally. In this chapter two very different types of contaminants, artificial radionuclides and organochlorines (OCs), are used to illustrate the importance of environmental pathways. These two contaminant classes have different, but effective, routes of transport into the Arctic Ocean. However, it is the organochlorines that pose the far greater risk to humans and ecosystems due to their interaction with ocean structure and the food web.
KeywordsArctic Ocean Former Soviet Union Canadian Basin Harbour Porpoise Artificial Radionuclide
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