Air pollution in Antarctica
While Antarctica remains one of the cleanest places in the world, increasingly large amounts of natural and man-made atmospheric pollutants are finding their way to the frozen continent. Pollutants enter via a number of pathways; some direct, others more convoluted.
For more than a year now, researchers from the Korea Polar Research Institute and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) have been collaborating to identify the source regions of pollution making its way to King George Island on the fringe of Antarctic territory (62oS). They are also determining the fate and impact of this pollution when it arrives.
The main investigative tool to track the pollution to its source regions is the naturally-occurring radioactive gas radon (222Rn). Radon is emitted continuously from all soils and rock (i.e. land surfaces), with almost none coming out of the ocean.
Due to its short radioactive half-life of 3.8 days, radon levels decay away almost completely within 20 days after emission.
By simply measuring the radon concentration of air arriving at Antarctica, researchers are able to deduce the degree of land contact it has had over the past 2-3 weeks, and therefore the pollution sources to which it may have been exposed.
In the summer of 2016, researchers Dr Sangbum Hong and Dr Scott Chambers, with support from the Australia Korea Foundation, will install a second radon detector at the newly-established Korean Antarctic base at Jang Bogo Station.
Together with a comprehensive suite of aerosol and trace gas monitoring equipment already operating at Jang Bogo, these new radon measurements will be used to gain a better understanding of pollution pathways to the Antarctic heartland (75oS), more than 3000 km from the nearest continent.