A CSIC expedition will analyze the impact of pollutants of human origin in Antarctica


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The Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC), together with the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), the Institute of General Organic Chemistry (IQOG-CSIC) and the University of Vigo today begin the ANTOM- II in the Southern Ocean to analyze the impact of emerging pollutants and semi-volatile organic compounds of human origin. The expedition departs from Ushuaia (Argentina), to the Bellinghausen Sea, in Antarctica, in the Oceanographic Research Vessel «Hesperides». For a month, the research team will focus on analyzing the potential of Antarctic marine microorganisms to degrade these contaminants of human origin.

“We want to know what effects organic matter of human origin has on the microbial communities of Antarctica and evaluate the ability of bacteria to degrade these pollutants,” explains the IDAEA-CSIC researcher and project coordinator, Jordi Dachs.

This project is a continuation of the study that began in December 2020, when the ANTOM-I expedition departed from Vigo to Punta Arenas (Chile), and which collected air and water samples in the Atlantic Ocean to determine how chemical pollutants were transported to the Southern Ocean.

“The general objective of ANTOM is to quantify the atmospheric inputs of emerging organic pollutants and anthropogenic organic matter in the Southern Ocean, and address the study of their biogeochemical relevance”, explains the IQOG-CSIC researcher and co-PI of the project, Begona Jimenez.

For her part, the teacher and researcher Cristina Sobrino, from the UVigo Department of Ecology and Animal Biology, points out that the three participants from the academic institution from Vigo “are responsible for studying these compounds of human origin on the abundance, composition and phytoplankton metabolism. These results are very important since phytoplankton, despite their small size, constitute the base of the marine food chain and are an active part of the global carbon cycle, capturing atmospheric CO2 and thereby contributing to the regulation of the planet’s climate» , details Nephew.

In this sense, the ICM-CSIC researchers Silvia G. Acinas and Marta Royo add that “this campaign will allow us to build a catalog of genomes of archaea and polar bacteria from Antarctica, in addition to investigating the metabolisms associated with the degradation capacity of different pollutants and their dispersion in the global ocean.

On the other hand, ICM-CSIC researchers Andrea G. Bravo and Isabel Sanz Sáez will study the concentrations and transformations of different chemical forms of mercury with the aim of quantifying the formation of Methylmercury, the chemical form that accumulates in food chains, while Massimo Pernice, also from the ICM-CSIC, will measure the abundance of the microorganisms that are part of the plankton.

The results obtained from this project will help to understand the effects that pollution of human origin has on Antarctic ecosystems. The anthropogenic chemical footprint determined in this area is a reflection of the lifestyle of today’s society and this project will show the extent and impact of pollution in remote areas.

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