Alaskan, Russian students test snow samples

Sunday, March 10, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Native students from Barrow and two Siberian villages are learning to collect snow samples to help scientists better understand mercury contamination in the Arctic.

The effort launches a 5-year research and education project whose goal is to get a better handle on the scope of mercury contamination while promoting hands-on science education.

The study, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, is the first to apply a series of snow samples to track mercury concentrations from late fall through snow melt in the Arctic.

Five Russian high school students and two teachers were among those who received training for the "Mercury in Snow" program. The Barrow Arctic Science Consortium is administering the program with its Russian counterpart, the Chukotka Science Support Group.

Mercury joins the list of contaminants studied in recent years as a result of a growing concern over contaminants migrating northward.

Few Arctic studies of the metal have been done. But an EPA-sponsored study by NOAA's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory in Barrow showed mercury concentrations went through a chemical change during winter's first sunrise, said NOAA researcher Dan Endres, who runs the lab. That study suggests a potential for accumulated mercury to end up in the food chain, but Endres stressed there's no indication of toxic levels, which can cause nervous system disorders.

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