Melting Permafrost could Release Large Amounts of Mercury: Scientists

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Melting permafrost could release large amounts of mercury, according to a new study. During the study, scientists calculated mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska. They found Arctic permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the earth, that stores a large amount of mercury.

On Monday, scientists declared that melting permafrost could release large amounts of mercury- a powerful toxic substance and main threat to human health. It can largely affect ecosystems around the world.

Between 2004 and 2012 researchers drilled 13 permafrost soil cores from some Alaskan sites and calculated the overall levels of mercury and carbon.

The study estimated approximately 793 gigagrams, or more than 15 million gallons, in frozen soil. That is almost roughly twice the amount found in the atmosphere’s human-caused mercury emissions. The calculation also found that both frozen and unfrozen soil contains a combined 1,656 gigagrams of mercury.

Steve Sebestyen, a research hydrologist at the USDA Forest Service in Grand Rapids, Minnesota said that there is a huge concern for social and human health. This mercury releasing can negatively affect the health of organisms and can even travel up the food chain to affect native and other communities, according to Sebestyen.

Science director for the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, Edda Mutter said, “Rural communities in Alaska and other northern areas have a subsistence lifestyle, making them vulnerable to methylmercury contaminating their food supply.” “Food sources are important to the spiritual and cultural health of the natives, so this study has major health and economic implications for this region of the world,” Mutter added.

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