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.
|©Joseph McConnell, Desert Research Institute
|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.
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.