Arctic permafrost could release massive level of mercury in future: new study reveals

It has been proved that Arctic permafrost known as the Arctic’s frozen soil is the warehouse of powerful greenhouse gases. Now a new study has revealed it could release massive amounts of mercury known as a neurotoxin which can severely affect the ecosystem on Earth. The reason behind this, the existing permafrost layer is getting weaker due to continuous change in climate.

As per the study, the Arctic’s frozen soil works like a storage unit of carbon and if it released as carbon dioxide, it will increase the greenhouse gas level and will lead to global warming. In the study, the scientists examined how much elemental mercury has been trapped in this region since the last ice age. They found that the northern tundra consisted more amount of natural mercury. If compared, the permafrost has housed more than twice the mercury than soils, oceans and the atmosphere combined. During the study, the researcher’s team detected mercury level of around 15 million gallons in the northern permafrost. This is 10 times more than mercury emissions by the humans since last three decades. The new study has been published in Geophysical Research Letters, it is a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Apart from the lead author, the study was co-authored by 16 other federal, university-based and independent researchers.

Paul Schuster, the lead author of the new study and a hydrologist at the US Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado stated that the new findings will work like a game changer. He said, “We’ve quantified a pool of mercury that had not been done previously, and the results have profound implications for better understanding the global mercury cycle.”

The study proposed that there are 32 million gallons of mercury stored under area equivalent of 50 Olympic swimming pools.

Kevin Schaefer, a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, and a co-author of the study stated that as the permafrost is now losing its thickness, some portion of this mercury will get released into the environment which will further affect humans and food supplies.

The team carried out the research by taking cores from permafrost across Alaska. There they measured the stored mercury level to formulate an estimation value of mercury portion in Canada, Russia, and northern countries. The mercury is there since the last ice age, the team stated.

Mercury occurred naturally and that binds to living matter. On the other hand if its level increases then, it can affect the environment. It can negatively affect reproductive and also can create neurological problems in animals. It is present in both water and terrestrial food chains.

The study informed that the current emissions levels through 2100 can lead to shrinking of the permafrost by 30 to 99 percent. For now, the major question is that where this mercury will go if it comes out, and what it will do with humans and plants. The answers are still unknown.  Some scientists said It could flush out through the Arctic Ocean while some other said it will enter the atmosphere.

Schafer stated, “We expect a bunch of it to be released, but we don’t know exactly how much, and when, and where it will be released.”


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