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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 15 Mar 2019

Research article | 15 Mar 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Airborne radionuclides and heavy metals in High Arctic terrestrial environment as the indicators of sources and transfers of contamination

Edyta Łokas1, Agata Zaborska2, Ireneusz Sobota3, Paweł Gaca4, Andrew Milton4, Paweł Kocurek5, and Anna Cwanek1 Edyta Łokas et al.
  • 1Department of Nuclear Physical Chemistry, Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków, 31-342, Poland
  • 2Marine Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences, Sopot, 81-712, Poland
  • 3Department of Hydrology and Water Management, Polar Research Centre, Nicholas Copernicus University, Toruń,87-100, Poland
  • 4Ocean and Earth Science, University ofSouthampton, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH UK
  • 5Research and Development Laboratory for Aerospace Materials, RzeszowUniversity of Technology, Rzeszow, 35-959, Poland

Abstract. A survey of airborne radioactive isotopes (137Cs, 238Pu, 239+240Pu, 241Am and 210Pb) and trace metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Fe, Al) in tundra soils and cryoconite hole material sampled from several locations in the Kaffiøyra region revealed high spatial concentration variability of the analysed samples. Lithogenic radionuclides (230Th, 232Th, 234U, 238U) show less variability than the airborne radionuclides because their activity concentrations are controlled only by mixing of weathered material derived from different bedrock.

Activity ratios of the artificial radionuclides differ in most cryoconite samples from global fallout signatures. The contribution of radionuclides from other sources might be enhanced by non-continuous exposure of cryoconite to atmospheric deposition. We assumed that the main source of Pu, which is visible only in cryoconite samples, are derived from nuclear tests and non-exploded weapons-grade material. Approximately one third of the total observed Pu activity concentration is 238Pu originating from a SNAP9A satellite re-entry and subsequent injection of nuclear debris from stratosphere into troposphere. In samples from Waldemarbreen we observed the effect of glacial morphology on effective trapping and storing of airborne radionuclides. The differences in the concentrations of radionuclides between sampling points and differences in the elevation gradient from terminus towards icefall may reflect the homogenous topography of the glacier tongue. The trace metal concentrations in soils were typical or slightly higher than concentrations characteristic for natural background concentrations and the 206Pb/207Pb ratio also was close to the natural ratio for parent rocks. Conversely, trace metal concentrations in cryoconite samples (Pb and Cd) were higher than in soil samples and definitely exceeded natural values.

Edyta Łokas et al.
Edyta Łokas et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Cryoconite granules built of mineral particles, organic substances and living organisms significantly influence fluxes of energy and matter at glacier surfaces where they occur. They contribute to ice melting, give rise to an exceptional ecosystem and effectively trap contaminants. This study evaluates contamination levels of radionuclides in cryoconite from Arctic Glacier and identifies sources of this contamination proving that cryoconite is an excellent indicator of atmospheric contamination.
Cryoconite granules built of mineral particles, organic substances and living organisms...