Humanity has increased the use of natural resources during the Anthropocene, with a simultaneous increase of the use of synthetic organic compounds. There are thousands of these chemicals in the environment, some of them identifyied as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs, in addition of being persistent in the environment, accumulate in biota, and have the potential to reach remote regions such as the open oceans and Antarctica. There are an increasing number of POPs being identified in Antarctica, but the mechanisms driving the accumulation of POPs in the Antarctic Peninsula are not fully understood. There is evidence that some processes such as snow deposition, or penguin colonies can amplify the concentrations of POPs in the Antarctic environment. The working hypothesis of SENTINEL is that there are a number of transport and accumulation processes that drive the occurrence of POPs in Antarctica, especially the northern sector of the Antarctic peninsula. This region could act as a sentinel of global pollution since if a given POP is found there, it should indicate that it is distributed globally in all remote regions. However, the processes driving POP occurrence in Antarctica remain poorly characterized. It is not known if the processes responsible for concentration amplification affect POPs with different physical chemical properties, and the differences between the Southern Shetland region with other Antarctic regions in terms of POP cycling. The aim of SENTINEL is to understand the accumulation and amplification processes of POPs in Antarctica and determine to which extend the Antarctic Peninsula can act as a sentinel of global pollution. The proposed work will be based on two intensive sampling campaigns at Deception and Livingston Islands, together with samples collected at different Antarctic regions. In addition to the assessment of snow deposition and penguin colonies as key processes withing the transport and cycling of POPs in Antarctica, a screening of a large number of POPs and synthetic compounds by target and non-target analysis will be performed. The work to be performed within SENTINEL is unprecedented in terms of the potential impact on a better knowledge of the fate, impact and relevance of remote pollution by organic synthetic compounds.
Project staff: Dr. Begoña Jiménez, Dr. Maria Vila-Costa, Dr. Ana Cabrerizo, Dr. Paulo Casal, Gemma Casas, Elena Cerro-Gálvez, Alicia Martínez-Varela