EGU24-989, updated on 08 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Atmospheric radioisotopes in cryoconite from the Flade Isblink ice cap, NE Greenland

Dylan Beard1, Giovanni Baccolo2,3, Caroline Clason4, Geoffrey Millward1, Edyta Łokas5, Sally Rangecroft6, Dariusz Sala5, Przemysław Wachniew7, and William Blake1
Dylan Beard et al.
  • 1School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, UK (
  • 2Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institut, Villigen, Switzerland
  • 3Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 4Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK
  • 5Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences, Krakow, Poland
  • 6School of Geography, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  • 7Faculty of Physics and Applied Computer Science, AGH University of Science and Technology, Krakow, Poland

Under climatic warming and increased melting, glaciers and ice caps are becoming secondary sources of contaminants deposited decades ago. Cryoconite, an organic-rich material found on the surface of many glaciers, is particularly efficient at accumulating airborne contaminants due to biogeochemical exchanges with the organic matter within cryoconite. Atmospherically derived radioactive isotopes, commonly referred to as fallout radionuclides, have now been found to accumulate in cryoconite globally. However, data from the polar regions, especially ice sheets and ice caps, is scarce. This study helps to address this regional gap in understanding fallout radionuclide accumulation in glacial settings. We present the first radioactivity dataset from cryoconite on a Greenlandic ice cap and assess the role of cryoconite in the distribution of radioactive species in the High Arctic. Forty-six cryoconite samples were collected from the Flade Isblink ice cap (NE Greenland) in August 2022. These samples were analysed via alpha and gamma spectrometry for atmospheric radionuclides, including 137Cs, 241Am, 210Pbexc., 207Bi, 7Be, and several plutonium isotopes. The results of this study confirm cryoconite's exceptional ability to accumulate fallout radionuclides, even in remote and relatively pristine regions such as Northern Greenland. The activities of radionuclides in cryoconite from Flade Isblink are among the highest reported across the High Arctic and the highest ever reported from Greenland. Flade Isblink's radioactivity source is compatible with the stratospheric reservoir established during atmospheric nuclear tests and with weapon-grade fissile fuel, likely originating from Novaya Zemlya. Our findings emphasise the necessity for continued research efforts on the release of legacy contaminants from glaciers, particularly given accelerated global warming and consequent glacier retreat.

How to cite: Beard, D., Baccolo, G., Clason, C., Millward, G., Łokas, E., Rangecroft, S., Sala, D., Wachniew, P., and Blake, W.: Atmospheric radioisotopes in cryoconite from the Flade Isblink ice cap, NE Greenland, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-989,, 2024.