Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study Reveals How Arctic Food Webs Affect Mercury in Polar Bears

10.12.2009
With growing concerns about the effects of global warming on polar bears, it's increasingly important to understand how other environmental threats, such as mercury pollution, are affecting these magnificent Arctic animals.

New research led by biogeochemists Travis Horton of the University of Canterbury and Joel Blum of the University of Michigan lays the groundwork for assessing current and future effects of mercury deposition and climate change on polar bears.

The study appears in the December issue of the journal Polar Research.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, but some 150 tons of it enter the environment each year from human-generated sources such as coal-burning power plants, incinerators and chlorine-producing plants. Deposited onto land or into water, mercury is picked up by microorganisms, which convert some of it to methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish and the animals that eat them. As bigger animals eat smaller ones, the methylmercury is concentrated---a process known as bioaccumulation. Sitting at the top of the food chain, polar bears amass high concentrations of the contaminant.

Although that much is known, the details of how mercury moves through different food webs---particularly in the Arctic, where snow and ice contribute to mercury deposition---are not well understood. To tease out that information, Horton, Blum and co-workers studied polar bear hair samples from museum specimens collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before mercury emissions from human-generated sources began to escalate.

By looking at three chemical signatures---nitrogen isotopes, carbon isotopes and mercury concentrations---the researchers learned that polar bears get their nutrition (and mercury) from two main food webs. At the base of one web are microscopic plants that float on the surface of the ocean (known as phytoplankton). The foundation of the second web is algae that live on sea ice.

The study showed that polar bears that get most of their nutrition from phytoplankton-based food webs have greater mercury concentrations than those that participate primarily in ice algae-based webs.

While it's tempting to speculate that declining sea ice, due to global warming, may force polar bears to depend more on phytoplankton-based webs, thus increasing their mercury exposure, the study doesn't directly address that issue. It does, however, provide other useful information, said Blum, who is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

"If you want to understand the potential effects of changing ecosystems on polar bears, you need to be aware of the existence of these two food webs, which may possibly be affected by sea ice," Blum said. "This work provides background information that will be important in our in-depth understanding of mercury bioaccumulation in polar bears."

In addition to Horton and Blum, the paper's authors are Zhouqing Xie, who was at U-M when the research was done and now is at the University of Science and Technology of China; Michael Hren, who was at Yale University when the work was done and now is a postdoctoral fellow at U-M; and C. Page Chamberlain of Stanford University.

More information:
Joel Blum: www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/public/experts/ExpDisplay.php?beginswith=Blum

Polar Research: www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0800-0395

Nancy Ross-Flanigan | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

Further reports about: Algae Arctic Polar Day Science TV bears phytoplankton-based webs polar bear power plant sea ice

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>