Trends of Diverse POPs in Air and Water Across the Western Atlantic Ocean: Strong Gradients in the Ocean but Not in the Air

Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Jul 20;55(14):9498-9507. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04611. Epub 2020 Nov 5.


Oceans have remained the least well-researched reservoirs of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) globally, due to their vast scale, difficulty of access, and challenging (trace) analysis. Little data on POPs exists along South America and the effect of different currents and river plumes on aqueous concentrations. Research cruise KN210-04 (R/V Knorr) offered a unique opportunity to determine POP gradients in air, water, and their air-water exchange along South America, covering both hemispheres. Compounds of interest included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Remote tropical Atlantic Ocean atmospheric concentrations varied little between both hemispheres; for HCB, BDEs 47 and 99, they were ∼5 pg/m3, PCBs were ∼1 pg/m3, α-HCH was ∼0.2 pg/m3, and phenanthrene and other PAHs were in the low 100s pg/m3. Aqueous concentrations were dominated by PCB 52 (mean 4.1 pg/L), HCB (1.6 pg/L), and β-HCH (1.9 pg/L), with other compounds <1 pg/L. Target PCBs tended to undergo net volatilization from the surface ocean, while gradients indicated net deposition for a-HCH. In contrast to atmospheric concentrations, which were basically unchanged between hemispheres, we detected strong gradients in aqueous POPs, with mostly nondetects in the tropical western South Atlantic. These results highlight the importance of currents and loss processes on ocean scales for the distribution of POPs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants*
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated* / analysis
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Pesticides* / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls* / analysis
  • Water


  • Air Pollutants
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Pesticides
  • Water
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls