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Trace metals in Antarctica related to climate change and increasing human impact.

Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology

analysis, Trace Elements, Metals, Humans, Environmental Pollutants, Climate, Antarctic Regions, Animals

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      Metals are natural constituents of the abiotic and biotic components of all ecosystems, and under natural conditions they are cycled within and between the geochemical spheres--the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere--at quite steady fluxes. In the second half of the twentieth century, the huge increase in energy and mineral consumption determined anthropogenic emissions of several metals exceeding those from natural sources, e.g., volcanoes and windborne soil particles. In the Northern Hemisphere, the biogeochemical cycles of Pb, Cd, Zn, Cu, and other metals were significantly altered, even in Arctic regions. On the contrary, available data on trace metal concentrations in abiotic matrices from continental Antarctica, summarized in this review, suggest that the biogeochemical cycle of Pb is probably the only one that has been significantly altered by anthropogenic emissions in Antarctica and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, especially in the period 1950-1975. Environmental contamination by other metals from anthropogenic sources in Antarctica itself can generally only be detected in snow samples taken within a range of a few kilometers or several hundred meters from scientific stations. Local metal pollution from human activities in Antarctica may compromise studies aimed at assessing the biogeochemical cycle of trace elements and the effects of global climate change. Thus, this review focuses on concentrations of metals in atmospheric particulate, snow, surface soils, and freshwater from the Antarctic continent and surface sediments and seawater from the Southern Ocean, which can plausibly be regarded as global background values of trace elements. These baselines are also necessary in view of the construction of new stations, the expansion of existing facilities to support research, and the growth of tourism and fisheries. Despite difficulties in making comparisons with data from other remote areas of the world, concentrations of trace metals in most samples of atmospheric particulates, snow, ice, soils, and marine sediments from Antarctica can be taken as global background levels. Comparison between the results of trace element surveys in marine waters of the Southern Ocean and in other seas is practically impossible. The upwelling or subduction of water masses, the seasonality in ice cover and in phytoplankton biomass, the low fallout of atmospheric dust, and many other peculiar characteristics of the Southern Ocean make concentrations of trace metals in surface waters quite variable in space and time. The depletion of nutrients in surface waters, which is a regular feature of many marine environments, rarely occurs in the Southern Ocean. Waters in some regions are characterized by very low concentrations of Fe and Mn, whereas in others the content of Cd is relatively high at the beginning of summer and may decrease about one order of magnitude during the phytoplankton bloom. Although in most Antarctic coastal ecosystems the input of metals from geochemical and anthropogenic sources and from long-range transport is negligible, concentrations of Cd in the waters and biota may be higher than in waters and related species of organisms from polluted coastal areas. Like the Southern Ocean, Antarctic lakes have many peculiar characteristics. They are often perennially ice covered and without outlet, and their water, which is gained only from short-term melting of snow and glaciers in summer, is lost mainly by sublimation of surface ice. Several lakes are distinctly stratified: the water under the ice may be cool, rich in oxygen, and among the cleanest and clearest of natural waters, whereas water near the bottom becomes anoxic, tepid, and richer in major and trace elements. Considering the specificity of Antarctic environments, to evaluate the extent and consequences of global changes and increasing human activities in Antarctica itself, research on the biogeochemistry of trace metals and monitoring programs

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