Sources of contaminants in Antarctica

Antarctica has no industry or agriculture and only a few settlements, all of which are research stations. Human activity otherwise is associated with fisheries and tourism. There are few local sources of pollution. The main sources are therefore areas on the Earth with a high population density and industrial activity. The contaminants are transported long distances by means of the circulation in the atmosphere and the ocean currents.


Skogbrann i Brasil

POLLUTION FROM SOUTH AMERICA  Pollution from forest fires in Brazil reaches Antarctica four weeks later. Photo: Istockphoto

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LOCAL POLLUTION The research stations contribute local pollution through discharges from domestic waste, effluent and incineration. Photo: Arne Oddvar Bergdahl / Norwegian Polar Institute

Atmospheric transport

Atmospheric transport is the main means by which contaminants reach Antarctica. The closest sources are furthest south in South America. The Troll Observatory has been able to trace aerosols measured at Troll back to forest fires in Brazil four weeks earlier. Emissions from tropical regions therefore soon reach the north coast of the continent.

Pollution from research stations

The research stations contribute very local pollution due to emissions and discharges of domestic waste, effluent and incineration. No systematic attempts have so far been made to model the consequences of local sources of pollution, including cruise ships and discharges in connection with scientific activities on the continental scale in Antarctica. However, studies at certain stations have recently focused increasingly on the contaminant load.

Enhanced PAH levels, traceable to diesel aggregates, were found at the Argentinian Carlini Station (formerly Jubany).PAH levels, three times higher than in uninhabited areas, have been found in sediments near the Brazilian research station in Admiral Bay. Sediment samples from the vicinity of the American bases at McMurdo and Palmer have shown that the sediments are contaminated by both PCBs and PAHs. Recent investigations at McMurdo and the Scott Base (New Zealand) have revealed brominated flame retardants in both the inside air and the effluent. All these compounds are typical contaminants in areas with human activity.