Investigation of selected precursors as an atmospheric source of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the Arctic

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford


Since the implication of the Stockholm Convention trends in abiota of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been observed to be decreasing in Svalbard and, in a broader sense, many aspects of the sources, sinks and transport of POPs are now well understood.Originally POPs were used as pesticides, industrial chemicals and industrial by-products, however they soon proved to be ubiquitous in the environment.However, since ratification of the Stockholm Convention, a further sixteen compounds have been found to express the same POP characteristics - persistent,bioaccumalative6 and toxic.Hence, it is important that further potential substances are identified early and understood on spatial and temporal extends so they can be monitored.Svalbard exists with differing climates in the east compared to the west. The west of the islands experiences a milder climate due to the jet stream bring warm water and a milder weather.In contrast, the east coast receives cold and fresh currents from the Arctic ocean, with air masses typically originating in Eurasia.This sets up Svalbard as an ideal location to access the transport pathways of pollutants due to the different climate gradients that exist within the archipelago.The Arctic Monitoring Assessment Programme has outlined several substances and chemicals of emerging Arctic concern (CEACs) which exhibit POP-like properties.Such species that have been identified and require further attention in the Svalbard archipelago are polyfluoronated alkyl substances (PFAS) and microplastics.It is the intention of this project to shed further light on the temporal and spatial understanding of these substances.With respect to PFAS, they are formed by oxidation during long range atmospheric transport (LRAT) from fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) and upon arrival in polar regions they become deposited by wet or dry deposition.However little is known about their abundance and distribution in the Arctic.This projects aims to take snow samples on three spatial gradients.Firstly, on an east-west gradient to attempt to establish which air masses may be responsible for their LRAT.Secondly on a latitude gradient to understand the potential for PFAS to undergo global fractionation.Finally, sampling will be undertaken with varying elevation to access fractionation due to altitude.It is hoped that results from these studies will assist with understanding data taken on a temporal scale. Lake sediments,snow pits and shallow ice cores will build up an understanding on temporal scales.This should also offer an insight into what extent the archipelago is polluted by PFAS through LRAT compared to local sources in settlements.Samples will be extracted and analysed using established methodology.Very little is understood concerning microplastic abundance and distribution in Svalbard's waters, the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean with only single studies existing in the latter two areas.However, it is notable that microplastics in sea ice has been found to be several orders of magnitude higher than Atlantic and Pacific oceanic gyres.Hence it has been hypothesised that the formation of new sea ice may scavenge such particles, concentrating microplastics in sea ice.Indeed it may be that the Arctic Ocean represents a major global sink of microplastics.This project would aim to test this hypothesis further, by comparison of sea ice cores and sea water surrounding Svalbard. Furthermore, sea water and sea ice would also be tested to understand if Svalbard's fjords also act as a potential sink, and what role local sources have to play in polluting these coastal areas.Microplastics will be isolated and identified using existing methodology.This allows for data to be readily comparable.Whilst microplastics and PFAS share little physical and chemical properties in common, both substances are known to be toxic.It is hoped that through further monitoring, the abundance and distribution of these substances in the Svalbard Archipelago


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/W502728/1 01/04/2021 31/03/2022
1935760 Studentship NE/W502728/1 01/10/2017 30/11/2021 William Hartz
Description I am working to assign perfluoroalkyl substances sources in the Arctic
Exploitation Route This research can inform policy makers and international treaties for to reduce and prevent Arctic contamination by PFAS.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Construction,Environment

Description Department of Earth Sciences, Burdett Coutts Award
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2019 
Description EPICA, Descartes Prize
Amount € 300 (EUR)
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2018 
End 10/2018
Description RTSG Extraordinary Funding
Amount £1,841 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
Description St Edmund Hall Postgraduate Grant
Amount £700 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 08/2019
Description Svalbard Science Forum, Arctic Field Grant
Amount kr 47,000 (NOK)
Organisation Svalbard Science Forum 
Sector Academic/University
Country Norway
Start 01/2019 
End 11/2019
Title PFAS in Ice Cores 
Description All data from ice cores analysed for PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) globally 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact It will be published in 2021 
Description Örebro University 
Organisation Örebro University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Financial, labwork
Collaborator Contribution Financial, labwork
Impact None yet
Start Year 2019
Description University Centre in Svalbard 
Organisation University Centre in Svalbard
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Fieldwork and labwork
Collaborator Contribution Facilitate fieldwork and labwork, gifts in kind
Impact None yet
Start Year 2018