Cryoconite: an efficient accumulator of radioactive fallout in glacial environments

Baccolo, Giovanni; Łokas, Edyta; Gaca, Paweł; Massabò, Dario; Ambrosini, Roberto; Azzoni, Roberto S.; Clason, Caroline; Di Mauro, Biagio; Franzetti, Andrea; Nastasi, Massimiliano; Prata, Michele; Prati, Paolo; Previtali, Ezio; Delmonte, Barbara; Maggi, Valter

Cryoconite is rich in natural and artificial radioactivity, but a discussion about its ability to accumulate radionuclides is lacking. A characterization of cryoconite from two Alpine glaciers is presented here. Results confirm that cryoconite is significantly more radioactive than the matrices usually adopted for the environmental monitoring of radioactivity, such as lichens and mosses, with activity concentrations exceeding 10 000 Bq kginline-formula−1 for single radionuclides. This makes cryoconite an ideal matrix to investigate the deposition and occurrence of radioactive species in glacial environments. In addition, cryoconite can be used to track environmental radioactivity sources. We have exploited atomic and activity ratios of artificial radionuclides to identify the sources of the anthropogenic radioactivity accumulated in our samples. The signature of cryoconite from different Alpine glaciers is compatible with the stratospheric global fallout and Chernobyl accident products. Differences are found when considering other geographic contexts. A comparison with data from literature shows that Alpine cryoconite is strongly influenced by the Chernobyl fallout, while cryoconite from other regions is more impacted by events such as nuclear test explosions and satellite reentries. To explain the accumulation of radionuclides in cryoconite, the glacial environment as a whole must be considered, and particularly the interaction between ice, meltwater, cryoconite and atmospheric deposition. We hypothesize that the impurities originally preserved into ice and mobilized with meltwater during summer, including radionuclides, are accumulated in cryoconite because of their affinity for organic matter, which is abundant in cryoconite. In relation to these processes, we have explored the possibility of exploiting radioactivity to date cryoconite.

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Baccolo, Giovanni / Łokas, Edyta / Gaca, Paweł / et al: Cryoconite: an efficient accumulator of radioactive fallout in glacial environments. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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