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Alp Glacier Melts Reveal Once Frozen Chemical Compounds

October 14, 2009

Researchers have reported that the melting Alpine glaciers are letting off harmful pollutants once captured by the ice, which could result in a “dire environmental impact” for the region.

In a study of sediment from an Alpine lake, Swiss researchers found trace amounts of now banned chemicals such as dioxins and pesticides like DDT.

“We can confirm with the help of these layers that, in the 1960s and 1970s, POPs (Persistant Organic Pollutants) were produced in great quantities and were also deposited in this Alpine lake,” Christian Bogdal, of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research, said in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Researchers studied a sediment core from the glacier-fed Lake Oberaar in Switzerland. They analyzed the sample for a variety of “persistent organic pollutants, organochlorine pesticides, and synthetic musk fragrances.”

“Input fluxes of all organochlorines increased in the 1950s, peaked in the 1960s∴1970s, and decreased again to low levels in the 1980s∴1990s,” researchers wrote. “This observation reflects the emission history of these compounds and technical improvements and regulations leading to reduced emissions some decades ago.”

“This second peak supports the hypothesis that there is a relevant release of persistent organic chemicals from melting Alpine glaciers.”

“Considering ongoing global warming and accelerated massive glacier melting predicted for the future, our study indicates the potential for dire environmental impacts due to pollutants delivered into pristine mountainous areas.”

Peter Schmid, one of the researchers involved with the study, told AFP that the findings coincided with those from other glacial lakes in the Swiss Alps.

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