ENVT 200 03

Massive Reserves of Mercury Hidden in Permafrost


ScienceDaily, a source for latestresearch news and environmental science topics, recently released an article discussing the discovery of massive amounts of mercury hidden in Alaskan permafrost. When natural mercury is found in the atmosphere binds with organic material in the soil, gets buried by sediment, and becomes frozen into permafrost, where it then remains trapped for a number of years unless liberated by changes such as permafrost thawing, as discussed in the article written by the American Geophysical Union. The authors intended audience was most likely directed at the general public because of the finding of significant implication for human health and ecosystems when exposed to mercury in this amount. One interesting point mentioned was the actual amount of mercury stored in this reservoir. The study found more than fifteen million gallons of frozen mercury in northern permafrost soil, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined. If everything remained frozen this wouldn’t be an environmental and human health threat, but as we know, Earth is in fact getting warmer. So, this raises many red flags. For example, a release of a large amount of mercury could potentially effect ecosystems and communities worldwide. Aquatic and terrestrial food chains would see harmful neurological and reproductive effects on all species inhabiting these areas. There is definitely an important social and human health aspect to this study as well. Mercury being released into the environment will adversely affect native communities. For example, rural communities in Alaska are vulnerable to mercury contaminating their food supply because of their subsistence lifestyle. If this mercury releases, it could have far reaching global consequences. “Mercury released into the atmosphere can travel large distances and could affect communities and ecosystems thousands of miles away from the release site.” I found this interesting because not only will the northern hemisphere be impacted greatly, this problem could travel to further communities and ecosystems around the globe. This study allows policymakers and scientists the ability to study this new phenomenon in more detail. To reflect, I thought this article raises many questions. One being, what happens if the permafrost actually thaws and is released? In my opinion the policy and decision makers in this sector have a great task at hand when this does become a serious threat to human health and ecosystems. Another question I had after reviewing this article was, how far will the mercury travel up the food chain? If the problem is as serious as it appears to be in this selection, then it is only a matter of time before human’s food chains are affected. When problems like this appear people tend to disbelieve the problem at hand, when in reality we as humans are solely responsible for warmer temperatures, resulting in permafrost thawing. It’s sobering to think how such a magnificent landscape can fundamentally change over such a relatively short time period. To conclude, the thawing of permafrost is a gradual process, but when it does thaw, will we as humans be prepared? If you are interested in diving deeper into this article, here is the link:¬†https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180205134238.htm


American Geophysical Union. “Massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 February 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180205134238.htm>.

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