Since the 1950s, nuclear weapon testing and releases from the nuclear industry have introduced anthropogenic radionuclides into the sea, and in many instances their ultimate fate are the bottom sediments. The Arctic Ocean is one of the most polluted in this respect, because, in addition to global fallout, it is impacted by regional fallout from nuclear weapon testing, and indirectly by releases from nuclear reprocessing facilities and nuclear accidents. Sea-ice formed in the shallow continental shelves incorporate sediments with variable concentrations of anthropogenic radionuclides that are transported through the Arctic Ocean and are finally released in the melting areas. In this work, we present the results of anthropogenic radionuclide analyses of sea-ice sediments (SIS) collected on five cruises from different Arctic regions and combine them with a database including prior measurements of these radionuclides in SIS. The distribution of (137)Cs and (239,240)Pu activities and the (240)Pu/(239)Pu atom ratio in SIS showed geographical differences, in agreement with the two main sea ice drift patterns derived from the mean field of sea-ice motion, the Transpolar Drift and Beaufort Gyre, with the Fram Strait as the main ablation area. A direct comparison of data measured in SIS samples against those reported for the potential source regions permits identification of the regions from which sea ice incorporates sediments. The (240)Pu/(239)Pu atom ratio in SIS may be used to discern the origin of sea ice from the Kara-Laptev Sea and the Alaskan shelf. However, if the (240)Pu/(239)Pu atom ratio is similar to global fallout, it does not provide a unique diagnostic indicator of the source area, and in such cases, the source of SIS can be constrained with a combination of the (137)Cs and (239,240)Pu activities. Therefore, these anthropogenic radionuclides can be used in many instances to determine the geographical source area of sea-ice.
Arctic sea ice can incorporate sediment and associated chemical species during its formation in shallow shelf environments and can also intercept atmospherically transported material during transit. Release of this material in ice ablation areas (e.g. the Fram Strait) enhances fluxes of both sediments and associated species in such areas. We have used a suite of natural (7Be, 210Pb) and anthropogenic (137Cs, 239Pu, 240Pu) radionuclides in sea ice, sea-ice sediments (SIS), sediment trap material and bottom sediments from the Fram Strait to estimate transit times of sea ice from source to ablation areas, calculate radionuclide fluxes to the Fram Strait and investigate the role of sea-ice entrained sediments in sedimentation processes. Sea ice intercepts and transports the atmospherically supplied radionuclides 7Be and 210Pb, which are carried in the ice and are scavenged by any entrained SIS. All of the 7Be and most of the excess 210Pb measured in SIS collected in the Fram Strait are added to the ice during transit through the Arctic Ocean, and we use these radionuclides as chronometers to calculate ice transit times for individual ice floes. Transit times estimated from the 210Pb inventories in two ice cores are 1?3 years. Values estimated from the 7Be/210Pbexcess activity ratio of SIS are about 3?5 years. Finally, equilibrium values of the activity ratio of 210Pb to its granddaughter 210Po in the ice cores indicate transit times of at least 2 years. These transit times are consistent with back-trajectory analyses of the ice floes. The latter, as well as the clay-mineral assemblage of the SIS (low smectite and high illite content), suggest that the sampled sea-ice floes originated from the eastern Siberian Arctic shelf seas such as the eastern Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea. This result is in agreement with the relatively low activities of 239,240Pu and 137Cs and the 240Pu/239Pu atom ratios (_0.18, equivalent to that in global fallout) in SIS, indicating that prior global atmospheric fallout, rather than nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, forms the main source of these anthropogenic radionuclides reaching the western Fram Strait at the time of sampling (1999). Transport of radionuclides by sea ice through the Arctic Ocean, either associated with entrained SIS or dissolved in the ice, accounts for a significant flux in ablation areas such as the Fram Strait, up to several times larger than the current atmospheric flux in the area. Calculated fluxes derived from sea-ice melting compare well to fluxes obtained from sediment traps deployed in the Fram Strait and are consistent with inventories in bottom sediments. 240Pu/239Pu atomic ratios lower than 0.18 in bottom sediments from the Fram Strait provide evidence that plutonium from a source other than atmospheric fallout has reached the area. Most likely sources of this Pu include tropospheric fallout from atomic weapons testing of the former Soviet Union prior to 1963 and Pu released from nuclear reprocessing facilities, intercepted and transported by sea ice to the ablation areas. Future work is envisaged to more thoroughly understand the actual mechanisms by which radionuclides are incorporated in sea ice, focusing on the quantification of the efficiency of scavenging by SIS and the effect of melting and refreezing processes over the course of several years during transit.