Spanish researchers using lasers to take measurements have found metal particles in the air in Antarctica as a result of human activity.
The new find comes shortly after researchers also found plastic in the air in Antarctica, warning that both discoveries are a cause for concern.
The researchers form a multidisciplinary team who have been working in Antarctica during the summer months for five years, so from December to March, because it is in the southern hemisphere. They are based at the two Antarctica Spain headquarters, located on Deception Island and on Livingston Island, the Gabriel de Castilla and the Juan Carlos the First research stations.
The last expedition was hit by the coronavirus crisis and the Hesperides ship had to stop its journey south due to the coronavirus outbreak. A sergent from the Spanish Army who was aboard the vessel, Francisco Rodriguez Sanchez, later died of COVID-19.
The researchers and military officers had to work hard to avoid bringing the virus to Antarctica and they followed strict protocols. This year, only one researcher has been allowed to make the trip.
This year’s investigation was focused on the thermodynamic interaction between the glaciers and the oceans, the role of the penguins in the biogeochemical cycles, the evolution of some volatiles under the volcano on Deception island and the evaluation of the air in Antarctica using cutting edge laser technology.
During research conducted on the atmospheric aerosol, the researchers managed to detect various particles in the air linked to human activity.
Jesus Anzano Lacarte, a Professor of Analytical Chemistry at Zaragoza University, explained during interview with Real Press that a new laser technology was used in the area and that “we put some air filters in the Antarctic and we used for three days as sensors”, confirming the presence of metal particles, especially lead, copper and tin in the air.
According to Professor Anzano, 60, it is clear that these particles, which include significant amounts of metal, are the result of human activity but their origin is still unclear and is being investigated.
The expert said: “They must have come from the closest countries, such as Chile and Argentina, but they might also have come from the cruise ships arriving in the area every day in order to visit Antarctica.”
The experts did not detect the presence of any of the metals in surface samples they took after detecting them in the air, neither in the ground, nor in the snow or water, nor did they detect any pesticides in the air, for which they ran specific tests.
Despite the air only containing trace amounts of metal, with only one part per million or trillion, and despite it being unclear how they will affect the fauna and flora, the professor believes the discovery is still a cause for concern.
He said: “What we are contaminating in one place is being reflected in Antarctica.” Antarctica has always been considered the planet’s temperature regulator and it has the purest air on Earth because of the lack of human interaction.
Plastic is however still washing up on Antarctica’s shores in the researchers are following very strict protocols to protect the continent’s otherwise pristine environment. They do not use polystyrene to pack their tools and equipment, they use creams that do not contain microplastics and they wash their clothes using very little soap.
The professor explained that this is exactly what people should be doing in other countries too in order to protect the rest of the environment. He also stressed that people should use public transport instead of driving their cars and avoid using single use plastic packaging and plastic bags.
Professor Anzano is also greatly concerned about the huge amount of plastics and metals that have been used during the coronavirus crisis, especially during the vaccination rollout, as there are millions of syringes being used once and then being thrown away, in the situation that is not the similar to the vast amounts of facemasks been found in the wild.
He added: “What we do in one location affects other locations, even Antarctica”.