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The Natural Environment

Pollution

Although the Arctic seems remote from industrialized areas of the Northern Hemisphere, winds and ocean currents carry pollutants to the far north where they can become concentrated, contaminating the environment and entering the food chain. Other pollutants may be carried to the Arctic in the droppings of migrating birds. High levels of PCBs, dioxins, and mercury have been detected in the fat of marine mammals and in fish in the Arctic. These pollutants can pose a health danger to indigenous peoples in the region who eat seals and whales. Smoglike haze from distant industrial air pollution sometimes forms in the polar region.

Scientists have also found a major thinning of the ozone layer high in the atmosphere over the Arctic similar to the ozone hole found over the Antarctic. The ozone layer of the upper stratosphere is damaged by chemical reactions with chlorofluorocarbons and other chemicals. These reactions are enhanced by sunlight, winds, and cold temperatures. High-energy particles from the Sun during solar storms can also damage the ozone layer.

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