Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim

Atmospheric Chemistry, Environment Canada

Dr. Bottenheim’s research interests are in the area of atmospheric gas phase chemistry. One area of particular interest to Jan is the chemistry of the Arctic boundary layer air. Several decades ago Jan and colleague Len Barrie discovered that during the Arctic spring ozone in the surface boundary layer air can be almost totally absent. This lower tropospheric ozone hole has been one of the topics Jan has studied in detail in collaboration with several colleagues from all over the world.  More recently, this has led to the discovery of surprisingly active photochemistry of the snow pack.

Jan was the lead scientist for several large field studies in recent years such as the OASIS-CANADA, Polar Sunrise Experiment 1992, PACIFIC93, ATLANTIC96 and ALERT2000, and the results of these studies have been published in special issues of key scientific journals such as the Journal of Geophysical Research and Atmospheric Environment.

Born in the Netherlands, Jan received his education from the University of Amsterdam, and after post doctoral work in Japan and the US came to Canada in 1975. After a stint in Alberta he came to Toronto in 1980 where he was employed by Environment and Climate Change Canada.  He is now retired and lives with his wonderful wife Annelies, sometimes in Aurora, Ontario, and sometimes in Catus, France.



Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim is a Dutch scientist specializing in atmospheric chemistry. He has extensive experience in studying reactive chemistry in the Arctic region. His research has led to significant discoveries, including the unexpected disappearance of ozone and the correlation between mercury and ozone levels. Dr. Bottenheim has been instrumental in transforming weather stations into research observatories, particularly Alert, Nunavut, Canada, and Barrow, now Utqiaġvik, Alaska, where measurements related to climate and atmospheric chemistry are conducted. He actively collaborates with international partners and promotes interdisciplinary cooperation to gain a better understanding of atmospheric processes.

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Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim discusses the significance of snow chemistry and the transport of toxic chemicals in the Arctic. He emphasizes the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as pesticides that are toxic and resistant to degradation. These pollutants can vaporize and travel through the air, eventually reaching the Arctic region. Dr. Bottenheim highlights the improvements in technology that allow for better measurements and monitoring of these pollutants. He also mentions the direct impact of banning certain chemicals, such as the decline in DDT levels after China and India implemented bans. The “grasshopper effect” is described, where pollutants cycle between the air and the ground, leading to their accumulation in Arctic ecosystems. Dr. Bottenheim notes the concerning levels of pollutants found in the blood of Inuit communities, which exceed acceptable limits set by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO). He emphasizes the importance of scientific data to support efforts in international agreements, like the Stockholm Convention, which aim to ban the use of toxic substances that pose a threat to the Arctic.

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Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim reflects on his experiences in the Arctic, expressing his fascination with the sounds and music created by different types of snow. He shares his love for classical music and how the unique sounds of walking on snow inspired him. He mentions encountering a polar bear for the first time and discusses the wildlife commonly found in the Arctic, including Arctic foxes and wolf packs. Dr. Bottenheim describes the beauty of observing the wolves and shares an anecdote about hearing their calls during the midnight sun. He compares his experiences in Alert, Nunavut, Canada, to Barrow, now Utqiaġvik, Alaska, a town with a larger population and more amenities. He acknowledges the changes in the Arctic due to climate change and reflects on the philosophical question of whether the Earth’s transformations are inevitable and part of nature’s course. He expresses his appreciation for the current beauty of the Arctic while remaining open to the possibilities and beauty that may emerge in the future.

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Dr. Paul Shepson and Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim discuss the untouched natural beauty of the Arctic and express concern about the potential loss of this environment for future generations. They acknowledge the need to address climate change and the excitement of rising to the challenge of finding solutions. They caution, however, against relying solely on engineering and technological fixes, highlighting the potential dangers and unintended consequences of quick fixes. They criticize proposals such as injecting sulfur into the stratosphere to block out the sun, emphasizing the immense scale and long-term commitment required. They stress the importance of global cooperation, international agreements, and informed decision-making when allocating resources to tackle climate change effectively. They advocate for responsible use of limited resources and considerate choices that prioritize human well-being and sustainable practices.

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