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Contaminants in the Arctic and the Antarctic: a comparison of sources, impacts, and remediation options

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2003

John S. Poland
Affiliation:
School of Environmental Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada (polandj@biology.queensu.ca)
Martin J. Riddle
Affiliation:
Australian Antarctic Division, Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia
Barbara A. Zeeb
Affiliation:
Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario K7K 7B4, Canada

Abstract

Contaminants, in freezing ground or elsewhere in the world, are of concern not simply because of their presence but because of their potential for detrimental effects on human health, the biota, or other valued aspects of the environment. Understanding these effects is central to any attempt to manage or remediate contaminated land. The polar regions are different from other parts of the world, and it would be naïve to assume that the mass of information developed in temperate regions can be applied without modification to the polar regions. Despite their obvious environmental similarities, there are important differences between the Arctic and Antarctic. The landmass of the Arctic is much warmer than that of the Antarctic and as a result has a much greater diversity and abundance of flora. Because of its proximity to industrial areas in the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic also experiences a higher input of contaminants via long-range aerial transport. In addition, the Arctic, with its indigenous population and generally undisputed territorial claims, has long been the subject of resource utilisation, including harvesting of living resources, mineral extraction, and the construction of military infrastructure. The history of human activity in Antarctica is relatively brief, but in this time there has been a series of quite distinct phases, culminating in the Antarctic now holding a unique position in the world. Activities in the Antarctic are governed by the Antarctic Treaty, which contains provisions dealing with environmental matters. The differences between the polar regions and the rest of the world, and between the Arctic and the Antarctic, significantly affect scientific and engineering approaches to the remediation of contamination in polar regions. This paper compares and contrasts the Arctic and Antarctic with respect to geography, configuration, habitation, logistics, environmental guidelines, regulations, and remediation protocols. Chemical contamination is also discussed in terms of its origin and major concerns and interests, particularly with reference to current remediation activities and site-restoration methodology.

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Copyright
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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