Cryoconite is a specific type of material found on the surface of glaciers and icesheets. Samples of cryoconite were collected from the Orwell Glacier and its moraines, together with suspended sediment from the proglacial stream on Signy Island, part of the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. The activity concentrations of certain fallout radionuclides were determined in the cryoconite, moraine and suspended sediment, in addition to particle size composition and %C and %N. For cryoconite samples (n = 5), mean activity concentrations (±1SD) of 137Cs, 210Pbun and 241Am were 13.2 ± 20.9, 66.1 ± 94.0 and 0.32 ± 0.64 Bq kg−1, respectively. Equivalent values for the moraine samples (n = 7) were 2.56 ± 2.75, 14.78 ± 12.44 and <1.0 Bq kg−1, respectively. For the composite suspended sediment sample, collected over 3 weeks in the ablation season, the values (± counting uncertainty) for 137Cs, 210Pbun and 241Am were 2.64 ± 0.88, 49.2 ± 11.9 and <1.0 Bq kg−1, respectively. Thus, fallout radionuclide activity concentrations were elevated in cryoconite relative to moraine and suspended sediment. In the case of 40K, the highest value was for the suspended sediment (1423 ± 166 Bq kg−1). The fallout radionuclides in cryoconite were 1–2 orders of magnitude greater than values in soils collected from other locations in Antarctica. This work further demonstrates that cryoconite likely scavenges fallout radionuclides (dissolved and particulate) in glacial meltwater. In the case of 40K, the greater value in suspended sediment implies a subglacial source. These results are amongst the relatively few that demonstrate the presence of fallout radionuclides in cryoconites at remote locations in the Southern Hemisphere. This work adds to the growing contention that elevated activities of fallout radionuclides, and other contaminants, in cryoconites are a global phenomenon and may be a risk to downstream terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.



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Journal of Environmental Radioactivity





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School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences