Joint research project

Nanoparticles in natural waters

Project leaders
Warrenraymondlee Cairns, Joerg Feldmann
REGNO UNITO - RSE - The Royal Society of Edinburgh (Scotland)
CNR/RSE biennio 2019-2020 (SCOZIA) 2019-2020
Earth system science and environmental technologies
Thematic area
Earth system science and environmental technologies
Status of the project

Research proposal

Nanoparticles are now being widely being produced by man for a wide variety of applications from drug delivery to house insulation, they are also produced by natural processes that range from volcanic activity to the disintegration of meteorites in the upper atmosphere. Once natural nanoparticles are emitted into or reach the atmosphere, their small size means they can be transported over long intercontinental distances and then re-deposited in rain and snow into the hydrosphere or cryosphere, where their presence can be confused with that of locally emitted anthropogenic nanoparticles. Traditional nanoparticle determination methods are based upon light scattering or size fractionation methods, developed for the characterisation of artificial nanoparticles where the composition is already known. They are only able to tell the particle number density and size distribution, not the composition of the nanoparticles.
To discriminate natural from artificial nanoparticles, chemical analysis after size discrimination is necessary, size fractionation techniques such as field flow fractionation can be coupled to inductively coupled mass spectrometry operating in time resolution analysis or single particle analysis modes, enabling the analyst to obtain chemical information on the composition of the nanoparticles found in the field.
To ensure that mostly natural nanoparticles are sampled, samples of snow, rain and dry deposition should be taken in remote areas, far from anthropogenic courses. This project will have access to samples from Italian CNR Col Margherita station, an atmospheric sampling site in the Eastern Italian Dolomites close on the watershed divide between the Trento and Veneto regions, and the Italian CNR station at Ny Alesund in the Svalbard archpilego inside the Arctic circle. At both sites, snow, wet deposition as well as size fractionated atmospheric aerosol samples are routinely collected. These samples will be collected by the CNR, analysed for their trace element content before transport to the TESLA lab in Aberdeen for nanoparticle determination and characterisation.
The collaboration between the CNR and Scotland will unite the expertise of the CNR in operating in remote regions and collecting and treating samples under ultra-clean conditions; with the expertise of the TESLA lab in Aberdeen in developing innovative methods for trace elemental speciation in environmental samples.

Research goals

The objectives of this project are to unite the strengths of the CNR IDPA with the TESLA lab of the University of Aberdeen to investigate and discriminate natural nanoparticles in the hydrosphere and cryosphere.
The CNR IDPA has operated in Antarctica and the Arctic for many years and has operated a high mountain station for the last 7 years under the GMOS project. It has a large experience base on the collection of snow and ice samples and the subsequent determination of persistent pollutants within them. The TESLA lab is a leading laboratory for development and use of elemental speciation analysis, nanoparticles are becoming an important chemical form for a number of trace elements in the environment, and TESLA has much more experience in their detection and determination.
So the objectives will be to:
Collect samples of snow, ice and atmospheric aerosol, as possible sinks and transport media for natural nanoparticles.
Develop methods for their preconcentration using the experience of TESLA and the clean room facilities at the CNR IDPA to isolate natural nanoparticles.
Develop methods for the particle size determination and elemental characterisation of natural nanoparticles which include metals such as mercury, cadmium, and fluorine for perfluorinated polymers.
Apply the developed methodologies to real samples and use the data to help determine source areas and the fate of nanoparticles to see if they are viable markers for environmental processes.

Last update: 27/11/2021