JUL 28, 2021 7:18 AM PDT

Melting Arctic Ice Carries High Levels of 'Forever' Chemicals

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Everything in our world, including us, is made up of chemicals. But some of those chemicals are very harmful to the natural world. Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are used in many different products, including firefighting foam and non-stick coatings on pans, but they don't degrade naturally in the environment and are thought of as forever chemicals. Research has shown that one type of PFAS can be toxic to wildlife and humans. Now, scientists have found that in the water near melting Arctic ice floes, thousands of miles from Europe, there are PFAA levels that are as much as twice as high as other parts of the North Sea. The findings have been reported in Environmental Science & Technology.

Image credit: Max Pixel

During an endeavor called the Norwegian Nansen Legacy project, first study author Dr. Jack Garnett of Lancaster University determined that atmospheric PFAAs end up in snow that falls onto ice floes. These chemicals can then get trapped in Arctic sea ice. As this ice rapidly melts in our warming world, the chemicals get released into the local seawater, in some cases, in high concentrations.

Study co-author Professor Crispin Halsall, also of Lancaster University, noted that the ice now forming in the Arctic is only about a year old, and the product of whatever has frozen the previous winter, rather than being an accumulation of ice that's formed over many years or decades. The short-term, one-year ice tends to hold a lot of very salty water called brine that connects to snowpack, and can concentrate chemicals like PFAS that would otherwise only be found at low levels.

PFAAs can be found in the food chain because these chemicals easily move through the environment, and they can attach to proteins. Longer compounds that then form, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), have been linked to liver damage in mammals and growth disruptions in fetuses.

Additional work indicated that brine can also maximize the levels of pollutants like PFASs and other organic toxins. These chemicals prefer to sit in the brine instead of within the solid ice, so as the ice gets older, the brine becomes more concentrated, as do the toxins. During melt periods, the brine on the ice starts to move around and mix with melting snow. That can cause PFAAs to move into the seawater.

Microbes like to live on the channels of brine that form under sea ice floes, so they too get exposed to higher PFAA levels.

Sources: Phys.org via Lancaster University, Environmental Science & Technology

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUL 15, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Modern Slavery in Greece Spotted from Space
JUL 15, 2021
Modern Slavery in Greece Spotted from Space
Migrant settlements being exploited for work have been spotted with satellite imagery by researchers led by the Universi ...
AUG 03, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Outdoor Activities and Recreation Under Stress
AUG 03, 2021
Outdoor Activities and Recreation Under Stress
Outdoor recreation has long been shown to be good for your health. Walking through parks lowers blood pressure ...
AUG 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Surprisingly, human nose adaptations are not always driven by colder climates
AUG 09, 2021
Surprisingly, human nose adaptations are not always driven by colder climates
New research suggests that human nose shape is not only driven by cold climates, as previously thought
AUG 20, 2021
Earth & The Environment
2021 Fire Season in California on Track to beat 2020: The Worst Year on Record
AUG 20, 2021
2021 Fire Season in California on Track to beat 2020: The Worst Year on Record
As of August 18, 2021, the Dixie fire grew to over 500,000 acres making it the 2nd  largest fire ever recorded ...
AUG 31, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Method to Detect Genetically Modified Animals in the Environment
AUG 31, 2021
A Method to Detect Genetically Modified Animals in the Environment
Genetically modified mice, fruit flies, and zebrafish are commonly used in research. Scientists have now developed a met ...
SEP 08, 2021
Plants & Animals
Are the skeletons of macaque hybrids distinct?
SEP 08, 2021
Are the skeletons of macaque hybrids distinct?
New research sheds insight into the evolution of the human pelvis by using macaque hybrid models.
Loading Comments...