Articles | Volume 15, issue 11
Research article
15 Jun 2015
Research article |  | 15 Jun 2015

Modelling the impact of climate change on the atmospheric transport and the fate of persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic

K. M. Hansen, J. H. Christensen, C. Geels, J. D. Silver, and J. Brandt

Abstract. The Danish Eulerian Hemispheric Model (DEHM) was applied to investigate how projected climate changes will affect the atmospheric transport of 13 persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to the Arctic and their environmental fate within the Arctic. Three sets of simulations were performed, one with present day emissions and initial environmental concentrations from a 20-year spin-up simulation, one with present day emissions and with initial environmental concentrations set to zero and one without emissions but with initial environmental concentrations from the 20-year spin-up simulation. Each set of simulations consisted of two 10-year time slices representing the present (1990–2000) and future (2090–2100) climate conditions. DEHM was driven using meteorological input from the global circulation model, ECHAM/MPI-OM, simulating the SRES (Special Report on Emissions Scenarios) A1B climate scenario. Under the applied climate and emission scenarios, the total mass of all compounds was predicted to be up to 55 % lower across the Northern Hemisphere at the end of the 2090s than in the 1990s. The mass of HCHs within the Arctic was predicted to be up to 38 % higher, whereas the change in mass of the PCBs was predicted to range from 38 % lower to 17 % higher depending on the congener and the applied initial environmental concentrations. The results of this study also indicate that contaminants with no or a short emission history will be more rapidly transported to and build up in the arctic environment in a future warmer climate. The process that dominates the environmental behaviour of POPs in the Arctic under a future warmer climate scenario is the shift in mass of POPs from the surface media to the atmosphere induced by the higher mean temperature. This is to some degree counteracted by higher degradation rates also following the higher mean temperature. The more dominant of these two processes depends on the physical-chemical properties of the compounds. Previous model studies have predicted that the effect of a changed climate on the transport of POPs to the Arctic is moderate relative to the effect of proposed changes in emissions, which is confirmed in this study. However, the model studies do not agree on whether climate change acts to reduce or increase environmental concentrations of POPs in the Arctic, and further work is needed to resolve this matter.

Final-revised paper