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Contamination of the Arctic

Image: Anthony Canamucio It has come as a surprise that many chemicals of anthropogenic origin such as pesticides are detectable at significant concentrations throughout the Arctic ecosystem, despite the fact that they have never been used there. Apparently these substances are readily transported there in atmospheric and oceanic currents. The Chernobyl accident provided ample evidence that no corner of our planet is protected from substances discharged in the industrialized middle latitudes.

Don Mackay
Image: Anthony Canamucio

It has come as a surprise that many chemicals of anthropogenic origin such as pesticides are detectable at significant concentrations throughout the Arctic ecosystem, despite the fact that they have never been used there. Apparently these substances are readily transported there in atmospheric and oceanic currents. The Chernobyl accident provided ample evidence that no corner of our planet is protected from substances discharged in the industrialized middle latitudes. Whether long-range, global-scale transport occurs now needs no debate. The key issues are these: What are the properties of substances that will facilitate this transport? What are the chemicals of commerce that can make the journey in substantial quantities? What fraction of the emitted quantities can reach the Arctic?

We cannot actually measure global rates of transport, so we must resort to mathematical models of chemical fate on a global scale for guidance. Primitive models already available provide encouraging...

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