Quique Bassat

Institut de Salut Global Barcelona

The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem extremely sensitive to environmental changes and that is currently exposed to multiple environmental stressors such as contamination. As a consequence, the Greenlandic population has unexpectedly relatively high levels of organohalogen compounds (i.e. organic chemicals), which directly affect child development, immune function and reproductive abilities.

Long-range atmospheric transport is one of the main routes for organohalogen compounds to reach Greenland, but the role of biovectors cannot be ignored. For example, migratory species travel thousands of miles towards the Arctic, and thus can carry pollutants to the remote areas.

Here we aimed to understand the role of sea birds as carriers of pollutants over long distances. For this reason we studied three lakes, one with a little auk (Alle alle) bird colony and two without these seabirds. The concentrations of all organohalogen compounds were substantially greater in the lake with the bird colony, indicating the strong influence of these seabirds in the transport and deposition of these compounds to remote sites. The organohalogen deposition was highest in the upper sediments of the polynya lake. Our results showed that, despite restrictions and regulations, bird transport continues to introduce considerable amounts of organohalogen pollutants to the Arctic regions.