Transport of Legacy Perfluoroalkyl Substances and the Replacement Compound HFPO-DA through the Atlantic Gateway to the Arctic Ocean—Is the Arctic a Sink or a Source?
By Hanna Joerss, Zhiyong Xie, Charlotte C. Wagner, Wilken-Jon von Appen, Elsie M. Sunderland, and Ralf Ebinghaus
August 4, 2020
The spatial distribution of 29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in seawater was investigated along a sampling transect from Europe to the Arctic and two transects within Fram Strait, located between Greenland and Svalbard, in the summer of 2018. Hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid (HFPO-DA), a replacement compound for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), was detected in Arctic seawater for the first time. This provides evidence for its long-range transport to remote areas. The total PFAS concentration was significantly enriched in the cold, low-salinity surface water exiting the Arctic compared to warmer, higher-salinity water from the North Atlantic entering the Arctic (260 ± 20 pg/L versus 190 ± 10 pg/L). The higher ratio of perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA) to perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in outflowing water from the Arctic suggests a higher contribution of atmospheric sources compared to ocean circulation. An east–west cross section of the Fram Strait, which included seven depth profiles, revealed higher PFAS concentrations in the surface water layer than in intermediate waters and a negligible intrusion into deep waters (>1000 m). Mass transport estimates indicated a net inflow of PFASs with ≥8 perfluorinated carbons via the boundary currents and a net outflow of shorter-chain homologues. We hypothesize that this reflects higher contributions from atmospheric sources to the Arctic outflow and a higher retention of the long-chain compounds in melting snow and ice.