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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Dec 15;42(24):9092-8.

On the mechanism of mountain cold-trapping of organic chemicals.

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Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The preferential accumulation of selected organic pollutants at higher altitude has been observed in a number of mountain regions. It is proposed that this phenomenon is due to differences in the efficiency of precipitation scavenging at various elevations, which, in turn, is due to the temperature dependence of organic vapor partitioning into rain, snow, and aerosols. The occurrence and extent of enrichment with elevation depends on whether the scavenging efficiency of a chemical is sensitive to temperature within the range encountered along a mountain slope. A multicompartment fate and transport model parameterized for mountain systems suggeststhat substances with equilibrium partitioning coefficients at 25 degrees C between water and air from 10(3.5) to 10(5.5) and between atmospheric particles and air from 10(9) to 10(11) are most likely to be subject to mountain cold-trapping. Such substances remain in the atmospheric vapor phase at higher valley temperatures, but are scavenged efficiently at the lower temperatures prevailing at higher altitudes. This implies that substances subject to mountain cold-trapping are approximately 2 orders of magnitude less volatile than substances that experience global cold-trapping. For example, while lighter PCBs get preferentially trapped at higher latitudes, the heavier PCBs are predicted to experience the strongest mountain cold-trapping. These model results agree with the results of field studies, with the exception of those studies that rely on sample media such as plant foliage for which precipitation is not the dominant deposition pathway. It appears that very fast deposition processes are required to trap contaminants along mountain slopes, whereas such processes reduce contaminant transport to remote polar regions.

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