Aarhus University Seal

Seabird-mediated transport of organohalogen compounds to remote sites (North West Greenland polynya)

New publication by Nupur Nagar, Mireia Bartrons, Sandra Brucet et al.


The role of sea birds as carriers of pollutants over long distances was evaluated by analyzing organochlorine and organobromine compounds in lake sediment cores from three remote sites around the North Water polynya (North West Greenland). One lake, NOW5, was in the vicinity of a little auk (Alle alle L.) bird colony, whereas the other two lakes, NOW14 and Q5, were undisturbed by seabirds. The former was strongly acidic (pH = 3.4) but the latter had a pH close to 8. Due to the guano loading, NOW5 exhibited higher chlorophyll concentrations (74 μg/L) than the other two lakes (1.6–3.4 μg/L), higher content of total phosphorous (0.34 mg/L vs. 0.007–0.01 mg/L) and total nitrogen (3.75 mg/L vs. 0.21–0.75 mg/L).

The concentrations of all organohalogen compounds were substantially greater in NOW5 than in the other lakes, indicating the strong influence of these seabirds in the transport and deposition of these compounds to remote sites. However, not all compounds showed the same increases. Hexachlorocyclohexanes and endosulfans were more than 18 times higher in NOW5, the drin pesticides and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), between 9.5 and 18 times and DDTs, polybromodiphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs) and chlordanes about 2.7–6 times. These differences demonstrated that the bird-mediated deposition has preservation effects of the less stable and more volatile compounds, e.g. those with log Kaw < −2.4, log Koa < 9 and/or log Kow < 6.8.

The sedimentary fluxes of PCBs, HCHs, drins, chlordanes, PBDEs, HCB and endosulfans were highest in the upper sediment layer of the polynya lake (year 2014). In contrast, the highest DDT fluxes were found in 1980. These trends indicate that despite restrictions and regulations, bird transport continues to introduce considerable amounts of organohalogen pollutants to the Arctic regions with the exception of DDTs, which show successful decline, even when mediated by bird metabolism.