Transport of pollutants to polar regions

Pollutants are transported to polar regions in the atmosphere and by ocean currents, and also by rivers and ice in the Arctic. These are the most important means of transport, but pollutants carried by animals which move between the polar areas may also have some significance.

nonePollutants are emitted into the air or dumped into the sea and are carried to the Arctic by winds and ocean currents, rivers and melting ice. Graphics: AMAP

Atmospheric transport is the most rapid means of transport for the majority of pollutants carried to the polar regions. The sources of the pollution in the Arctic are largely in Europe, North America and Asia.

Ongoing climate change results in changes in the weather systems such as wind direction, precipitation and temperature. These, in turn, may affect the ocean currents and fluvial runoff which, themselves, influence the atmospheric transport of pollutants to the Arctic.

The properties of ocean currents as modes of transport shift with changes in temperature, which influence their ability to take up compounds. Input by rivers may also be altered as a consequence of the ongoing changes in the climate. Modelling has demonstrated that a possible outcome is that the discharge in the Yenisei, Lena and Mackenzie rivers will increase and that in the Ob will decrease.[1] This, in turn, will have consequences for the importance of these rivers as modes of transport for pollutants.


Norwegian Polar Institute research on pollutants acquires knowledge which enhances our understanding of pollution, its sources and its biological effects in the European Arctic. An important task for the institute's scientists is to map the occurrence of new pollutants in arctic food chains as a contribution to the Stockholm Convention, for example.

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