From Passo San Pellegrino it is a few minutes’ funicular ride to reach the Col Margherita and admire the incredibly beautiful scenery with views of all the major Dolomite peaks, from the Pale di San Martino to the Agner, from Cristallo to Civetta, passing over Antelao and Pelmo. In front of the majestic and legendary Southern Face of the Marmolada, in the distance you can see the Lagorai and the Bellunese as well as the Oltre Piave Dolomites.
Right here, in one of the places on earth where it is easiest to imagine paradise, scientists from the National Research Council (CNR-IDPA) and the University of Ca’ Foscari in Venice study the chemical composition of the atmosphere in order to determine the impact caused by human activity and climate change on the most remote and pristine environments on the planet.
As of the summer of 2011, in fact, the Col Margherita station has been a part of the Global Mercury Observation System network (GMOS – http://www.gmos.eu), the first world network studying the effects of mercury. The air is extraordinarily pure in this area of the Dolomites, even though it is relatively close to the heavily populated and industrialized Padana Plain. The air contains chemical properties comparable to those found in uncontaminated places like Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctic. There is also great support and cooperation from the lift facility operators in the San Pellegrino ski area who collaborate actively with the scientists throughout the year and serve as “custodians” for this important research site.
Mercury, one of the most toxic and persistent volatile metals, represents several threats to the quality of ecosystems and human health, as outlined by the United Nations’ Environmental Program (UNEP) in the 2013 edition of Global Mercury Assessment. This element is dispersed in the atmosphere through human activities like gold mining, carbon emissions and waste disposal, contaminating it on various levels. Because of its volatility, mercury is transported by emissions and can reach even the most remote regions, where it creates deposits. In its organic form, mercury-metal can accumulate in plankton, fish, birds and other wildlife, spreading through the food chain to humans, with extremely harmful effects on nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular and reproductive systems. The international GMOS network uses dozens of sample sites and involves 23 international research institutes to quantify this type of atmospheric pollution in real time.
The role of the Col Margherita station in this global monitoring network is to study the basic levels of this element at a high altitude Alpine site. In fact, the altitude of the site, combined with the particularities of its geographical position and the dynamics of air mass circulation, means that in this station they can determine the average values for mercury present in the troposphere, practically without any direct effect on local and regional emissions.
The experimental data is registered every 5 minutes for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Results are sent in real time to the various research centres where they are elaborated and made immediately available to the public through various web platforms (http://gmos.dsi.unive.it/). This research also proves valuable in creating guidelines for future environmental policies concerning measures to contain and restrict harmful emissions.