Fisheries & Ecological Services
Alaska Region


Environmental Contaminants

Contaminants in the Arctic

Northern regions of the world experience unique contaminants issues as a consequence of their location and climate. Long-range atmospheric transport and deposition in the Arctic occurs mainly in the winter when the low pressure drives much of the atmospheric circulation of the Northern Hemisphere. Airborne contaminants are drawn to high-latitudes from industrial areas in North America, Europe and Asia where, due to colder temperatures, the contaminants condense and precipitate out of the atmosphere. Once chemicals reach colder climates typical of high-latitudes, they are less likely to revolatilize as in warmer climates, and therefore persist in the environment and are incorporated in the food chain. International research programs such as the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) have shown that long-range pollutant transport and accumulation are a circumpolar issue. Existing data also show, however, that atmospheric transport differs in various parts of the Arctic. It is therefore important to obtain specific information for Alaska since there is uncertainty in simply extrapolating results from other northern regions.

Localized sources of contamination also exist in Alaska and other northern areas, including old landfills, abandoned facilities, discarded drums and other point sources. These local sources can have a profound impact on fish and wildlife resources in the immediate vicinity.

Aleutians - some contaminants are transported atmospherically. USFWS.  Click to Enlarge


Last reviewed: March 24, 2014