Black carbon pollution from tourism and research activities in Antarctica is likely increasing snowmelt on the continent by an estimated 83 tonnes for each visitor, according to new research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.
team of researchers sampled the snow yearly between 2016 and 2020 at 28 sites spanning 2000km from Antarctica’s northern tip to the Ellsworth Mountains.
They focused mainly on the Antarctic peninsula, where about half of the research facilities on the continent are located and where an estimated 95% of Antarctic tourist trips are made.
The team estimated that the black carbon produced by vessels, planes and diesel generators results in 23mm of additional snowmelt each summer in the most frequently visited areas of the ice-covered landmass.
What is more, study co-author Dr Raúl Cordero, of the University of Santiago Chile, said Antarctic snow was the cleanest on Earth, typically with baseline levels of black carbon around one part in a billion.
He also believes that a limit on the number of tourists to Antarctica may need to be adopted. The team quantified the likely snowmelt, calculating that an Antarctic researcher’s black carbon footprint was about 10 times greater than a tourist’s.
We estimated that the snow that is melting faster because of the activities carried out by a researcher would be closer to 1000 tonnes. Every researcher is using vessels, planes, helicopters, generators – and everybody’s using diesel for powering these
While the amount of pollution-induced snowmelt is far less than the ice and snow lost to global warming, the study highlighted the need for a transition to renewable energy sources.