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Mining pollution in Greenland - the lesson learned: A review of 50 years of environmental studies and monitoring

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This review provides an overview of environmental studies and monitoring at mine sites in Greenland since the first environmental studies were conducted in the early 1970s. Mining at three legacy mine sites in Greenland (Ivittuut, Mestersvig and Maarmorilik) caused significant metal pollution, mostly with lead and zinc, due to lack of adequate environmental studies and regulation. These legacy mine sites have later served as study areas for development of methods for environmental monitoring, which can also be applied to other sites. The review describes the most significant mines in Greenland's mining history together with procedures for conducting the environmental monitoring work. A comprehensive description is provided on the research results and development of monitoring practices during the past 50 years for assessing dispersion, bioaccumulation and toxicological effects of pollutants in both the marine and terrestrial environment. Further, the current practices for sample preparation, chemical analyses and storage of samples and data are described. From the studies it is clear that monitoring needs to be site- and mine-specific, adaptive, diverse and take conditions unique to the Arctic into account, such as permafrost, seasonal drainage and fjord stratification dynamics. Based on the results, lessons learned for future monitoring programs are given. Moreover, spatial and temporal trends of the legacy pollution at the Greenland mine sites are discussed. Finally, it is shown how research and monitoring results have been applied to regulate mining activities in Greenland to minimise the environmental impact, and some future perspectives are presented. Many of the results and conclusions in the review are considered applicable to environmental monitoring of mining and other industrial activities in other areas than Greenland, both inside and outside of the Arctic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152373
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

    Research areas

  • Arctic, Biomonitoring, Contamination, Environment, Metals, Mines

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