Cryoconites as biogeochemical markers of anthropogenic impact in high mountain regions: analysis of polyaromatic pollutants in soil-like bodies

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The globalisation and omnidirectional character of anthropogenic processes has challenged scientists around the world to estimate the harmful effects of these processes on ecosystems and human health. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is one the most infamous group of contaminants, originated both from natural and anthropogenic processes. They could transport to high latitudes and altitudes through atmospheric long-distance transfer and further enter ecosystems of these vulnerable regions by deposition on terrestrial surfaces. An interesting object for tracking transboundary contamination processes in high mountain ecosystems is called cryoconite. Cryoconite, a dark-coloured supraglacial sediment which is abundant in polar and mountain environments, is considered as a storage of various pollutants, including PAHs. Thus, it may pose a risk for local human health and ecosystem through short-distance transfer. Studied cryoconite sediments were collected at the surface of Skhelda and Garabashi glaciers, Central Caucasus high-mountain region, as well as mudflow, moraine material and local soils at the Baksan Gorge in order to examine levels of their contamination. We analysed the content of 15 priority polyaromatic compounds from the US EPA list and used the method of calculation of PAHs isomer ratios with the purpose of identifying their source. To estimate their potential toxicity, Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) equivalents were calculated.-1-1 Maximum concentration was defined for NAP (84 ng×g ), PHE (40 ng×g ) and PYR (47-1-1 ng×g ), with the minimum concentration for ANT (about 1 ng×g ). The most polluted material is a cryoconite from Garabashi glacier because of local anthropogenic activities and long-distance transfer. High-molecular weight PAHs are dominated in PAHs composition of almost all samples. The most common sources of PAHs in studied materials are combustion processes and mixed pyrolytic/petrogenic origin. Toxicity levels of separate PAHs did not exceed the maximum permissible threshold concentrations values in most cases. However, the sum of PAHs in BaP equivalents exceed the threshold values in all samples, in some of them more than twice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere78028
JournalOne Ecosystem
StatePublished - 2022

Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • Central Caucasus
  • Cryoconite
  • Glaciers
  • Pollution
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Soils


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