Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
31 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 31 Mar 2015

Step changes in persistent organic pollutants over the Arctic and their implications

Y. Zhao, T. Huang, L. Wang, H. Gao, and J. Ma

Abstract. While some persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been declining globally due to their worldwide ban since the 1980s, the declining trends of many of these toxic chemicals become less significant and in some cases their ambient air concentrations, e.g., polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), showed observable increase during the 2000s, disagreeing with their declining global emissions and environmental degradation. As part of the efforts to assess the influences of environmental factors on the long-term trend of POPs in the Arctic, step change points in the time series of ambient POP atmospheric concentrations collected from four arctic monitoring sites were examined using various statistical techniques. Results showed that the step change points of these POP data varied in different years and at different sites. Most step change points were found in 2001–2002 and 2007–2008. In particular, the step change points of many PCBs for 2007–2008 were coincident with the lowest arctic sea ice concentration occurring during the 2000s. The perturbations of air concentration and water–air exchange fluxes of several selected POPs averaged over the Arctic, simulated by a POP mass balance perturbation model, switched from negative to positive during the early 2000s, indicating a tendency for reversal of POPs from deposition to volatilization which coincides with a positive to negative reversal of arctic sea ice extent anomalies from 2001. Perturbed ice–air exchange flux of PCB 28 and 153 showed an increasing trend and a negative to positive reversal in 2007, the year with the lowest arctic sea ice concentration. On the other hand, perturbed ice–air exchange flux of α-hexachlorocyclohexane decreased over the period of 1995 to 2012, likely owing to its lower Henry's law constant which indicates its relatively lower tendency for volatilization from ice to air.

Short summary
After several decades of declining persistent organic pollutants in the arctic environment due to their global use restriction, some of these toxic chemicals increased in the mid-2000s and undertook statistically significant step changes which coincided with arctic sea ice melting. Results provide statistical evidence for the releasing of toxic chemicals from their reservoirs in the Arctic due to the rapid change in the arctic environment.
Final-revised paper