The protection of the Antarctic environment is a primary goal of the International Antarctic Treaty, and the monitoring of the chemical contamination in Antarctica is therefore an activity of paramount importance, along with studies aimed at elucidating the transport, accumulation and transformation of pollutants.
In this context, the Antarctic Environmental Specimen Bank (BCAA) plays a significant role. Environmental Specimen Banks are facilities that archive samples from the environment for future research and monitoring purposes. The samples are collected using validated procedures and stored under well-defined preservative conditions, so that they can be used to analyze temporal trends of known hazardous substances, previously unrecognized pollutants, or substances for which analytical techniques were inadequate at the time of sampling. Therefore, the BCAA is a valuable resource of specimens for real-time and retrospective monitoring of Antarctic ecosystems, as well as to support research projects in Antarctica.
BCAA is operating since 1994 under the Italian Antarctic Research Program (PNRA) by properly collecting and storing several samples from coastal and remote sites in Antarctica. These samples are representative of the marine (seawater, sea-ice, suspended particulate matter, sediment, fish, molluscs, sponges), lake (water, macro-algae, sediment) and terrestrial (snow, firn, soil, mosses) environments, and of the Antarctic atmosphere. Noteworthy, systematic collection since 1996 has occurred of specimens of the scallop Adamussium colbecki and the benthic fish Trematomus bernacchii, which are considered key species for the biomonitoring of chemical pollution in Antarctic ecosystems. So, retrospective evaluation of chemical contamination in the marine coastal environment of Terra Nova Bay has been carried out, comprising heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. The same species have been also used to investigate the natural cycles of trace elements and arsenic compounds, as well as to provide reference values for halogenated flame retardants. The results of these studies can be found in specific publications listed here.
Another important activity of BCAA has been the management of certified reference materials (CRMs). In fact, the need for monitoring of environmental contamination in Antarctica with adequate accuracy requires the availability of suitable CRMs in Antarctic matrices. In the context of PNRA, three Antarctic CRMs have been prepared and certified for trace elements: MURST-ISS-A1 (Antarctic Sediment), MURST-ISS-A2 (Antarctic krill) and MURST-ISS-A3 (Adamussium colbecki). These samples are currently available on request and they constitute a value resource for the quality control of the analytical methods.
Finally, it is expected that the role of BCAA will be further strengthened by the association to the Italian Antarctic National Museum and by the international cooperation among the Environmental Specimen Banks, as promoted by the International Environmental Specimen Banks Group and recommended by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR).