PhD: Ice enrichment of chemical pollutants: a significant phenomenon in a warmer arctic
Lancaster Environment Centre
I am a full-time doctoral researcher studying for a PhD in Environmental Chemistry at Lancaster University. My enthusiasm for Environmental Science was established during my undergraduate dissertation project, which focused on the sources and implications for human exposure of a range of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in indoor dust. Despite some of these chemicals being banned for several decades they can still be detected at levels that pose concern for human health. Furthermore, there are an array of replacement chemicals that in some cases are equally persistent! My Masters dissertation focussed on the impact of agricultural plastics on the lifetime of pesticides in crop-covered environments. The project demonstrated that the longevity of these chemicals is often extended in closed-cropping environments because of the lack of UV-light and that current fate testing of agri-chemicals does not take these novel environments into account.
Together, these two separate projects have fuelled my passion for understanding the impact humans are having on the global environment. I want to learn more about the mechanisms and the environmental processes which govern the fate and behaviour of recalcitrant organic chemicals.
A wide variety of anthropogenic chemicals have been detected in remote regions of the world such as the Arctic. These chemicals have to be sufficiently persistent to undergo long-range environmental transport from source regions and this is facilitated by oceanic and atmospheric currents. Many of these chemicals are detected at trace quantities in Arctic media including snow and ice but have characteristics which enable them to bioaccumulate/biomagnify in the marine food web and hence pose a risk to higher trophic-level organisms like marine mammals. Pollutant ‘processing’ in the marine cryosphere, however, is poorly understood, but snow and ice may act to temporarily store, enrich and subsequently release chemical pollutants to surface seawater at times of the year when biological activity is high. This project is relevant in the context of climate change, as the nature and extent of Arctic sea ice is changing rapidly. The aim of my research is therefore to understand the role of the marine cryosphere in contaminant processing, transfer and exposure to ice-associated biota.