Airborne radionuclides and heavy metals in high Arctic terrestrial environment as the indicators of sources and transfers of contamination
A survey of airborne radioactive isotopes (137Cs, 238Pu, 239+240Pu, 241Am, and 210Pb) and trace metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Fe, Al) in tundra soils and cryoconite hole material sampled from several locations in the Kaffiøyra region of Spitsbergen revealed significant variability in spatial concentration. Lithogenic radionuclides (230Th, 232Th, 234U, 238U) show less variability than the airborne radionuclides because their activity concentrations are controlled by mixing of local material derived from different types of bedrock. Activity ratios of the artificial radionuclides in most cryoconite samples differ from global fallout signatures. The contribution of radionuclides from additional and more specific sources might be enhanced by non-continuous exposure of cryoconite to atmospheric deposition. We assumed that the main source of Pu, which was detected only in cryoconite samples, is derived from nuclear tests and non-exploded weapons-grade material. Approximately one-third of the total observed Pu activity concentration is 238Pu, most likely originating from the SNAP9A satellite re-entry, which was powered by a 238Pu thermoelectric generator. In samples from Waldemarbreen the influence of glacial local morphology on the capability of cryoconite for trapping and accumulating airborne radionuclides is apparent. Local glacial morphology plays an important role in determining the accumulation of airborne pollutants. Trace metal concentrations in soils were typical or slightly higher than concentrations characteristic for the natural background; the 206Pb∕207Pb signature was also close to the natural ratio of the parent rocks. Conversely, trace metal concentrations in cryoconite samples (Pb and Cd) were higher than in soil samples and exceeded natural values. Cryoconite is an effective monitor of the spread of artificial radionuclides and heavy metals in their surrounding environment.