Traces of sunscreen in the snow of the North Pole

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AGI – Tracks sunscreens to North Pole, on the glaciers of the Svalbard archipelago. They settle mainly in winter, when night falls in the Arctic. Measuring its concentration and explaining its origin is a study conducted by researchers fromCà Foscari University Venice and the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council (Cnr-Isp), in collaboration with the University of Svalbard.

The results are published in the scientific journal ‘Science of the Total Environment’. The aim of the work was to provide a first overview of the presence in the environment personal care products in the Arcticproviding data on their spatial and seasonal distribution in the snow cover.

Thanks to the Arctic Field Grant project funded by the Research Council of Norway in cooperation with Cnr-Isp and the Italian research station Dirigibile Italia in Ny Alesund, it was possible to carry out between April and May 2021 sampling from five glaciers, is located on the Brggerhalvya peninsula.

The variety of selected locations, both near human settlements and in more remote locations, made it possible to study presence and behavior emerging contaminants, compounds that are still in use but are being monitored by the scientific community because they are potentially harmful to the ecosystem.

The results revealed the presence of several compounds such as fragrance and UV filters, which come from consumer personal care products to the most extreme latitudes.

“This is the first time that many of the analyzed contaminants, such as benzophenone-3, octocrylene, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and ethylhexyl salicylate, have been identified in arctic snow,” says Marianna D’Amico, a PhD student in polar sciences at Cà Foscari. University of Venice and first author of the study.

“The results highlight how the presence of emerging contaminants in remote areas can be attributed to the role of long-range atmospheric transport – explains Marco Vecchiato, researcher in analytical chemistry at Cà Foscari and co-author of the paper – in fact, the highest concentrations were found in winter deposits.

At the end of winter, contaminated air masses from Eurasia reach the Arctic more easily. The most obvious example involves some UV filters commonly found in sunscreens.

The origin of the greater winter concentrations of these contaminants can only lie in the continental inhabited areas at lower latitudes: in Svalbard, the sun does not rise during the Arctic night and sunscreens are not used.”

The distribution of some of these contaminants changes with altitude. Most of the compounds have higher concentrations at lower altitudes, except for octocrylene and benzophenone-3, two UV filters commonly used in sunscreens, which are more abundant at the tops of glaciers, where they are transported from low latitudes by atmospheric circulation.

This data will be useful for defining monitoring plans in the area, which will also contribute to the protection of the local ecosystem. Selected contaminants have already demonstrated negative effects on aquatic organisms by altering the functionality of the endocrine and hormonal systems.

Some of these compounds are regulated locally in several Pacific islands and are currently under investigation by the European Union. In this context, the priority of Arctic environmental protection in the near future becomes the quantification of processes of reintroduction of contaminants appearing in the phase of snow melting into the environment.

“It will be essential to understand the phenomenon of transport and deposition of these contaminants in polar regions, especially in relation to variations in local seasonal conditions,” concludes Andrea Spolaor, researcher at Cnr-Isp – conditions that are changing rapidly in response to climate. a change that is occurring four times faster in the Arctic than in the rest of the world.”

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