Scientists have discovered massive amounts of toxic mercury, which is a neurotoxin, trapped in the Arctic permafrost. Mercury is known as a severe threat to the health of humanity.
The thawing of the Arctic permafrost would release potent greenhouses gases. And with the latest discovery, it could also soon release a considerable amount of potent mercury as climate change gets worst.
The study published in Geophysical Research Letters on February 5 revealed the massive reservoir of mercury on Earth. It stores twice as much mercury as all other soils, ocean, and the atmosphere. Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado, and other colleagues led the discovery, according to Phys.org.
Schuster described the discovery as game-changer. He said they had quantified a pool of mercury, which had not been done previously. He further noted that the results of the study have profound implications for better understanding the global mercury cycle.
According to the Washington Post, the researchers took cores from permafrost across Alaska and gauged the levels of mercury and extrapolated them to determine how much mercury is in the permafrost across the globe covering large areas of Canada, Russia, and other northern countries. The scientists estimated about 32 million gallons of mercury hidden in the permafrost. That quantity is equivalent to about 50 Olympic pools.
Kevin Schaefer, a co-author of the study and a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, said that the figure could represent the buildup of mercury during and since the last ice age. He further noted that as permafrost thaws in the future, some portion of this mercury will get released into the environment, with unknown impact to people and food supplies.
The release of mercury into the atmosphere could affect the food supply such as fish species that would not be safe to eat. This implication could stress the ecosystem and impact the native people that rely on them for survival.
Steve Sebestyen, a research hydrologist at the USDA Forest Service in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, said the consequences of this mercury released into the environment are potentially enormous. Mercury has health effects on organisms and could travel up the food chain and harm the native and other communities, as noted by UPI.