Norway — Haze polluting the Arctic has thickened in the pastdecade despite lower emissions by Russian factories, perhaps because of moreforest fires or pollution from Asia, an international report said on Thursday.
“The haze is coming back again,” said Lars-Otto Reiersen, head ofthe Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which handed a report onacids and haze to officials from eight Arctic Council nations in Salekhard,Russia.
The study said the worst sulphur pollutants in the Arctic, by Russian metalssmelters and industries far to the south, had declined in recent years withlower emissions. Many lakes and soils blighted by acid rain and snow wererecovering, it said.
But some other toxins in the almost uninhabited region, including nitrogenoxides that may be carried by winds from industries or forest fires to the south,seemed to be rising.
A brownish haze, which can cut visibility in the near pristine Arctic inspring, had started to increase in the late 1990s after clearing since the1970s, according to measurements in Barrow, Alaska. Haze levels were still belowthe 1980s.
“The cause of this recent increase is not yet known,” the reportsaid.
Reiersen told Reuters one theory was that: “The haze might be linked toclimate change — with increased temperatures there are more forest fires. Thatmeans more soot in the atmosphere.”
Warmer temperatures in recent decades mean the forest fire season in northernforests starts earlier and ends later. Most scientists say fossil fuels burnt inpower plants, factories and cars release heat-trapping gases that are raisingtemperatures.
Pollution from growing economies such as China may be adding to haze, whoseparticles can also fall as acid rain or snow. “The importance of Asiansources to acidification and Arctic haze pollution … is not yet clear,”the report said.
The report said there was no sign of significant health damage to people,even those living near Russian smelters. The current level of deposition ofacids “does not appear to be a threat to terrestrial ecosystems in most ofthe Arctic.”
On the Kola peninsula in northwest Russia, there were signs of recovery.Emissions by the Nikel smelter, for instance, have long blighted forests, killedfish and destroyed lichen that is the staple food for reindeer.
The AMAP report urged Arctic Council nations — Russia, the United States,Canada and the five Nordic states — to consider tighter limits on emissions ofindustrial pollutants.
It said that existing international rules under the U.N.’s GothenburgProtocol, which sets ceilings on industrial pollutants until 2010, were nolonger enough to guarantee a longer-term decline in acidification, it said.
An opening of the Arctic region to oil firms, and to sea transport if thepolar ice shrinks with higher temperatures, may also bring more pollution. SomeU.S. studies say the Arctic may contain a quarter of the world’s undiscoveredoil and gas.
Arctic haze was first noted in the 1950s by Canadian pilots puzzled by lowvisibility over the pristine ice.
Studies showed it comprised tiny particles mainly blown from industrialcentres far to the south. Haze can blanket areas up to 200 km (120 miles) acrossand cut visibility to a few km.