A scientist-mountaineer’s arctic expedition to study chemical pollutants

PolarQuest’s Arctic route.

27 June 2018 – Polarquest2018 scientist Frederic Gillet has a special mission on board Nanuq, in addition to supervising Microplastic sampling on board. He will disembark at the end of the Wijdefjorden (see map), where he will climb the Nordenskiöld glacier, the highest peak on the Spitzbergen island, and head to Pyramiden, an old Russian mining city and currently an intriguing ghost town worth visiting. During his mission, he will install special sensors to measure the quantity of PCBs in the air.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a group of man-made organic chemicals containing carbon, hydrogen and differing amounts of chlorine. They have no known taste or smell, and range in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, their resistance to acids and bases as well as to heat, PCBs have been used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications such as plastics, paints, adhesives, surface coatings, inks, electric equipment, heat transfer fluids and lubricants.  But, for the same reasons, they do not really break down once in the environment. PCBs are ubiquitous and persistent pollutants,  toxic and  carcinogenic, neurotoxic.

Measuring PCBs in Arctic water and air is interesting to quantify their presence in areas distant from urbanized regions and, by doing so, to better understand transfer and accumulation mechanisms of this pollutant in the oceans and in the atmosphere.

Click here to learn more about PolarQuest2018’s mission to study PCBs!