Spheroidal Carbonaceous Particle

Spheroidal carbonaceous particles (SCPs) are microscopic particles that are a component of fly ash, a by-product of fossil fuel combustion. SCPs have been identified for the first time in an Antarctic ice core, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Scientists from the University College London and the British Antarctic Survey examined the ice core, which dated back to 1936.

Environmental Indicator of Industrialization

SCP particles have no other anthropogenic or natural sources except for fossil fuel combustion, making them a clear environmental indicator of industrialization. The study provides the first evidence that SCPs have been transported to continental Antarctica, trapped in ice layers since the early decades of the 20th century. The deposition of SCPs in Antarctica during the twentieth century was probably affected by atmospheric circulation and transport processes, particularly in relation to the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds’ position and intensity.

Probable Source of SCPs

The most probable source of the identified SCPs was Australian coal-fired power plants, located some 8,000 km away from Antarctica, with potential additional input from central Chile, 4500 km away. SCP data was collected from an ice core taken from the Palmer Land region of the Antarctic Peninsula. The annually resolved samples, ranging from 1900-2011, displayed the earliest possible SCP evidence at Palmer in the sample for 1930-1937. Nonetheless, the definitive year was discovered in 1936 by using the discrete sampling method at an annual resolution.

Analysis of SCPs

The SCPs identified within the ice core were analyzed using scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive x-ray to determine their surface chemistry and fuel source. An analysis of SCPs in the ice core can reveal information about the particles’ surface chemistry and fuel source, providing crucial information about industrial activities in the past.

Contaminants Reach Antarctica via Atmospheric Transport

Atmospheric transport is the primary means by which contaminants reach Antarctica. The closest sources are furthest south in South America. Scientists detected Chernobyl radioactivity in the snow in the South Pole less than two years after the accident in 1986, demonstrating how easily pollutants can travel across the globe.

Future SCP Deposition

The study warns that the predicted increase in the strength of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds during the 21st century might lead to an increased deposition of fly ash particles and other anthropogenically-derived atmospheric pollutants in Antarctica in the future.



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