Articles | Volume 10, issue 3
Research article
27 May 2014
Research article |  | 27 May 2014

The effects of global climate change on the cycling and processes of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the North Sea

K. O'Driscoll, B. Mayer, J. Su, and M. Mathis

Abstract. The fate and cycling of two selected legacy persistent organic pollutants (POPs), PCB 153 and γ-HCH, in the North Sea in the 21st century have been modelled with combined hydrodynamic and fate and transport ocean models (HAMSOM and FANTOM, respectively). To investigate the impact of climate variability on POPs in the North Sea in the 21st century, future scenario model runs for three 10-year periods to the year 2100 using plausible levels of both in situ concentrations and atmospheric, river and open boundary inputs are performed. This slice mode under a moderate scenario (A1B) is sufficient to provide a basis for further analysis. For the HAMSOM and atmospheric forcing, results of the IPCC A1B (SRES) 21st century scenario are utilized, where surface forcing is provided by the REMO downscaling of the ECHAM5 global atmospheric model, and open boundary conditions are provided by the MPIOM global ocean model.

Dry gas deposition and volatilization of γ-HCH increase in the future relative to the present by up to 20% (in the spring and summer months for deposition and in summer for volatilization). In the water column, total mass of γ-HCH and PCB 153 remain fairly steady in all three runs. In sediment, γ-HCH increases in the future runs, relative to the present, while PCB 153 in sediment decreases exponentially in all three runs, but even faster in the future, due to the increased number of storms, increased duration of gale wind conditions and increased water and air temperatures, all of which are the result of climate change. Annual net sinks exceed sources at the ends of all periods.

Overall, the model results indicate that the climate change scenarios considered here generally have a negligible influence on the simulated fate and transport of the two POPs in the North Sea, although the increased number and magnitude of storms in the 21st century will result in POP resuspension and ensuing revolatilization events. Trends in emissions from primary and secondary sources will remain the key driver of levels of these contaminants over time.