Thawing and slumping permafrost in the western Canadian Arctic is releasing unprecedented levels of mercury into waterways.
Permafrost thaw slumps in the western Canadian Arctic are releasing record amounts of mercury into waterways, according to new research by University of Alberta ecologists.
Mercury is a naturally occuring contaminant that is toxic to humans and other animals in large quantities as it accumulates in organisms and food webs. Sediments in permafrost are estimated to store more mercury than Earth's oceans, atmosphere, and soil combined. And, as climate change causes permafrost to thaw, the mercury stored in permafrost becomes available for release into the surrounding environment.
"Concentrations of mercury were elevated for at least 2.8 kilometres downstream of thaw slumps," says Kyra St. Pierre, Vanier Scholar PhD student, who co-led the study with fellow graduate students Scott Zolkos and Sarah Shakil in the Department of Biological Sciences. "This suggests that some mercury from thaw slumps may be transported for many kilometres through downstream ecosystems, and into larger waterways."
The issue is exacerbated by rising temperatures and increasing precipitation in the Canadian Arctic due to climate change.
"Climate change is inducing widespread permafrost thaw," explained St. Pierre, who conducted the study under the supervision of Assistant Professor Suzanne Tank, and Professor Vincent St. Louis . "In regions where this results in thaw slumping, this may release a substantial amount of mercury into freshwater ecosystems across the Arctic."
However, because the mercury is locked within sediments, the scientists are unsure as to whether this mercury could be consumed by organisms in the area and whether this mercury poses any threat to the security of northern food webs.
These results highlight the need for further research on mercury cycling in regions experiencing active permafrost thaw, as well as studies examining if and how this mercury might enter food webs in surrounding ecosystems.
The research was conducted in partnership between the University of Alberta and the Government of the Northwest Territories in response to Northwest Territories' community interests in the downstream effects of permafrost thaw.
The paper, "Unprecedented increases in total and methyl mercury concentrations downstream of retrogressive thaw slumps in the western Canadian Arctic," was published in Environmental Science & Technology (doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b05348).
Katie Willis | EurekAlert!
If Machines Could Smell ...
19.07.2019 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA
Algae-killing viruses spur nutrient recycling in oceans
18.07.2019 | Rutgers University
Adjusting the thermal conductivity of materials is one of the challenges nanoscience is currently facing. Together with colleagues from the Netherlands and Spain, researchers from the University of Basel have shown that the atomic vibrations that determine heat generation in nanowires can be controlled through the arrangement of atoms alone. The scientists will publish the results shortly in the journal Nano Letters.
In the electronics and computer industry, components are becoming ever smaller and more powerful. However, there are problems with the heat generation. It is...
Scientists have visualised the electronic structure in a microelectronic device for the first time, opening up opportunities for finely-tuned high performance electronic devices.
Physicists from the University of Warwick and the University of Washington have developed a technique to measure the energy and momentum of electrons in...
Scientists at the University Würzburg and University Hospital of Würzburg found that megakaryocytes act as “bouncers” and thus modulate bone marrow niche properties and cell migration dynamics. The study was published in July in the Journal “Haematologica”.
Hematopoiesis is the process of forming blood cells, which occurs predominantly in the bone marrow. The bone marrow produces all types of blood cells: red...
For some phenomena in quantum many-body physics several competing theories exist. But which of them describes a quantum phenomenon best? A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Harvard University in the United States has now successfully deployed artificial neural networks for image analysis of quantum systems.
Is that a dog or a cat? Such a classification is a prime example of machine learning: artificial neural networks can be trained to analyze images by looking...
An international research group led by scientists from the University of Bayreuth has produced a previously unknown material: Rhenium nitride pernitride. Thanks to combining properties that were previously considered incompatible, it looks set to become highly attractive for technological applications. Indeed, it is a super-hard metallic conductor that can withstand extremely high pressures like a diamond. A process now developed in Bayreuth opens up the possibility of producing rhenium nitride pernitride and other technologically interesting materials in sufficiently large quantity for their properties characterisation. The new findings are presented in "Nature Communications".
The possibility of finding a compound that was metallically conductive, super-hard, and ultra-incompressible was long considered unlikely in science. It was...
24.06.2019 | Event News
29.04.2019 | Event News
17.04.2019 | Event News
19.07.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
19.07.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
19.07.2019 | Earth Sciences