Snow Amplification of Persistent Organic Pollutants at Coastal Antarctica

Many legacy and emerging persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been reported in polar regions, and act as sentinels of global pollution. Maritime Antarctica is recipient of abundant snow precipitation. Snow scavenges air pollutants, and after snow melting, it can induce an unquantified and poorly understood amplification of concentrations of POPs. Air, snow, the fugacity in soils and snow, seawater and plankton were sampled concurrently from late spring to late summer at Livingston Island (Antarctica). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) concentrations in snow and air were close to equilibrium. POPs in soils showed concentrations close to soil–air equilibrium or net volatilization depending on chemical volatility. Seawater–air fugacity ratios were highly correlated with the product of the snow–air partition coefficient and the Henry’s law constant (KSA H’), a measure of snow amplification of fugacity. Therefore, coastal seawater mirrored the PCB congener profile and increased concentrations in snowmelt due to snowpack releasing POPs to seawater. The influence of snowpack and glacier inputs was further evidenced by the correlation between net volatilization fluxes of PCBs and seawater salinity. A meta-analysis of KSA, estimated as the ratio of POP concentrations in snow and air from previously reported simultaneous field measurements, showed that snow amplification is relevant for diverse families of POPs, independent of their volatility. We claim that the potential impact of atmospheric pollution on aquatic ecosystems has been under-predicted by only considering air–water partitioning, as snow amplification influences, and may even control, the POP occurrence in cold environments.