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Polar bears, glaucous gulls most at risk from contaminants

09 August 2010 The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Although animals throughout the Arctic are exposed to an alphabet soup of pollutants and contaminants that are carried north from industrialized countries, only polar bears in East Greenland and Svalbard and glaucous gulls in Svalbard appear to be showing any deleterious effects, according to a new report co-authored by a researcher from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The summary, which is part of a comprehensive effort called the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), was published in a recent special issue of Science of the Total Environment. Bjørn Munro Jenssen, a professor of biology at NTNU, was one of the authors of the summary, which reports in part on his work with polar bears on Svalbard.

While researchers could not document strong evidence that contaminants such as PCBs and DDT were adversely affecting animals throughout the Arctic, other factors, such as the impact of climate change, disease and the invasion of new species will affect the overall exposure that each animal has to pollutants. Climate change, in particular, will affect sea ice distribution and temperatures. This will in turn cause food web changes and changes in nutrition, which led the researchers to list animals at the highest risk from contaminant exposure.

The Arctic wildlife and fish considered to be most at risk are: Polar bears in East Greenland, Svalbard and Hudson Bay, killer whales in Alaska and northern Norway, several species of gulls and other seabirds from the Svalbard area, northern Norway, East Greenland, the Kara Sea, and the Canadian central high Arctic, ringed seals from East Greenland, and a few populations of Arctic char and Greenland shark.

Attached files

  • Polar bears in Svalbard and East Greenland are most at risk from the effects of contaminants such as PCBs and DDT, which are found in the Arctic. Photo courtesy of the USGS NBII

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