Field: Climate change monitoring
Global Technical function: Managing
Technical Function Unit: Data analysing, Identifying, Modelling
Geographic Area: Norway


The Arctic has characteristic conditions for analyzing climate change and pollution effects. The area is relatively clean, but it receives long-range transported contaminants from long distances, primarily in the northern hemisphere. Furthermore, low temperatures alter common pollutant transportation mechanisms; for example, air pollutants can be deposited on ice through snow and retained for years until melting. The Arctic also has unique food chains; many species gather fat reserves for energy storage and insulation where pollutants are accumulated. The singular diet of autochthonous populations is based in these species and, as a consequence, Arctic populations suffer an inimitable situation: they live in relatively clean environments, but are strongly exposed to pollutants impact. 

Due to these special properties, the Arctic environment and its dwellers have been thoroughly studied for decades. These studies, mostly carried out under the coordination of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), have resulted in a deep understanding about long-range pollutant transport to the Arctic and its effect on human populations. However, climate change is altering the routes, pathways and fates of pollutant transport, as well as the known exposure patterns. New studies are therefore necessary to integrate existing work on pollutant dissemination and estimate the effect climate change will have on it.

ArcRisk aims at assessing the influence of climate change on pollutant transport, their uptake in trophic chains and the resultant risk to human populations in the Arctic and other areas of Europe. This project is funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-ENV). 21 partner organizations work together under the coordination of the Secretariat of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Norway).

The project comprises several complementary research actions addressing all the components in the contaminants cycle and how they are influenced by climate change. All the actions focus on the study of the same contaminants: mercury and a number of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

First, models representing the current atmospheric and oceanic routes of transport of contaminants to the Arctic were refined and applied to explore future effects of climate change. Specifically, the research focused on how pollutants are delivered to the Arctic at present and how they are transferred from the environment to food chains relevant to humans. The models included those dealing with the transport of contaminants through atmosphere, ice-ocean and multimedia, and those dealing with pollutant bioaccumulation in organisms within the human food chain. They were run in historical and future scenarios. These scenarios were based on pollutant and climate change monitoring work and projections. They provided the meteorological and contaminants emission context of the simulations. Running the models in historical scenarios has allowed improving their reliability, while simulations in future scenarios have enabled a good exploration of the changing routes and mechanisms for pollutant transport. Additionally, the range of pollutants studied and the models’ precision have been upgraded.

Second, new field samples have been collected with the purpose of measuring target pollutants in all Arctic media and supporting simulations. Abiotic samples comprised air, sea water, sea ice, snowpack and snow/glacier melt water runoff. Biotic samples included lower food-web organisms, fishes, wildfowls and reindeers.

Third, a deep data analysing and managing activity is being conducted using available studies on the effects of contaminants on human health to determine the cause-effect logic between human exposure to contaminants and their health implications. Based on this, future health effects will be estimated under the climate change scenarios.

Finally, all the gathered information will be synthetized and then compiled in a database focusing on consequences to human health. Based on the knowledge provided by field sampling and literature review, the forecasts provided by modeling, and an evaluation of EU and global policies on contaminants, a final report will identify potential risks and propose adaptation strategies.

By the end of the project, the conclusions will provide policy makers and health authorities with solid information to prevent adverse outcomes of changes in pollutant transport. The project is expected to be finished in the first months of 2014, i.e. the model research and the field sampling have been carried out so far, but analysis of data is still ongoing. Therefore, the project readiness level is estimated to be 3 on the TRL scale.