Science

Mammoth Mercury Reserves Discovered In Arctic Permafrost

Mammoth Mercury Reserves Discovered In Arctic Permafrost”

The research team measured mercury levels from permafrost cores collected across Alaska and then calculated the average level of mercury throughout the world. The research evidence has significant implications over the worldwide ecosystems as well as human health as big mercury exposure, as just a little amount of substance can trigger critical health issues.

"This discovery is a game-changer", Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado and lead author of the new study, was quoted as saying. Over time, naturally occurring compounds in the atmosphere, such as mercury and carbon dioxide, can bind with organic material in the soil and be frozen into permafrost, potentially remaining trapped underground for thousands of years before it thaws, the new paper said. If the permafrost continues to melt, it could release a tremendous amount of mercury, and this could, in turn, impact ecosystems all around the world.

According to the study published by the researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the amount of toxic mercury trapped in the permafrost is said to be equivalent to approximately 50 Olympic swimming pools.

"There would be no environmental problem if everything remained frozen, but we know the Earth is getting warmer", Schuster said. Analysis suggests the Arctic permafrost holds double the amount of Mercury found in all the rest of the planet's ocean, sediment and atmospheric systems combined.

However, researchers also point to the fact that this large amount of mercury might pose a danger to the environment. The permafrost map represents the mercury bound to frozen organic matter below the Active Layer Depth (ALD) and above 300 cm depth.

If the non-permafrost soils in the permafrost regions are included, there are 1,656 gigagrams of mercury tucked away there also.

Now, a new study about how much mercury found that that the largest reserve of natural mercury is trapped in the Alaskan permafrost. Scientists have discovered that the northern tundra is the world's richest reserve of natural mercury.

Steve Sebestyen, a researcher at the USDA Forest Service in Grand Rapids, Minnessota who was not involved in the study, believes that there's a "significant social and human health aspect" to the study. Credit: Schuster et al./GRL/AGU. "The best option for managing these permafrost-related risks is to keep the permafrost - and the carbon and mercury contained in permafrost - frozen, through immediate reduction of fossil fuel emissions". This form of mercury is a risky toxin that causes neurological effects in animals ranging from motor impairment to birth defects. When temperatures rise and the permafrost melts, mercury isn't fixed in place anymore.

"Rural communities in Alaska and other northern areas have a subsistence lifestyle, making them vulnerable to methylmercury contaminating their food supply", said Edda Mutter, science director for the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. Mercury has negative reproductive and neurological effects on animals and is known to accumulate in both water and terrestrial food chains. If the Arctic mercury burden further increases, it could be yet another way that climate change takes a toll on the native communities living there.

Schuster hopes to analyze that those issues in further studies.

In the Northern Hemisphere, permafrost accounts for about 8.8 million square miles (22.79 million square kilometers) of land - or roughly 24 percent of exposed Earth, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

We already knew that thawing Arctic permafrost would release powerful greenhouse gases. How far will the mercury travel up the food chain? "These are big-picture questions that we need to answer", Schuster went on to say.



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