Climate Change and Chemical Contamination in the Arctic
As ice melts and the Arctic becomes easier to reach, it is becoming Canada’s new frontier of industrial development and socioeconomic innovation. But these opportunities also carry the risk of chemical contamination of the Arctic’s vulnerable ecosystems. When glaciers and sea ice melt, they can release “legacy” contaminants that have been stored for a long time. Resource development and shipping can also introduce new contaminants.
As Canada Research Chair in Arctic Environmental Chemistry, Dr. Feiyue Wang is working on understanding the release and effects of contaminants in the Arctic under a changing climate. Wang’s research has shown that Arctic contamination is driven not only by the quantity of contaminants entering the system, but increasingly by climate-induced changes within Arctic ecosystems.
For example, a rapidly changing sea ice environment alters how contaminants are transported between the air and the ocean. It also affects how contaminants get into marine organisms—throughout the food chain, all the way up to beluga whales and polar bears. Building upon his pioneering research on mercury in sea ice, Wang and his research team are studying oil and other emerging contaminants associated with Arctic development.
Wang’s studies have shown that even when contaminant emissions in Arctic ecosystems are brought under control, it can take a long time before the situation improves. Wang’s research on the interplay between chemical contamination and climate change will provide critical knowledge and tools to improve policies and practices. Ultimately, this work will lead to sustainable development in the Arctic in the context of a changing climate.