Oh Boy! Alaska’s melting permafrost is filled with mercury. And that’s no great news! Mercury is bad news for animals, plants, humans, water tables, and whole ecosystems, which is why it’s so important to contain. But according to a new study, there is a large reservoir of mercury trapped in Alaskan permafrost that is presently melting.
The deposits of mercury in high northern latitudes could amount to the biggest amount found anywhere in the world something like up to 15 million gallons of mercury up there, or “twice as much mercury as the rest of all soils, the atmosphere, and ocean combined.” Releasing so much of this stuff into the greater environment could spell an ecological disaster.
The big concern is that mercury will permeate soil currently thawing. Oups! and the melting of the permafrost may also release methane, a greenhouse gas, that has been safely stored away in this region until now.
If the mercury were to stay trapped in soil, it might not cause as many dire long-term health consequences. But if it waterways, it could work its way up the food chain from microorganisms to humans. It’s also possible that small amount of the metal could get into the atmosphere, which would allow it to spread beyond its current latitudes.
Whatever way you cut it, the mercury in the tundra could literally rise up and spread farther than we hope, with devastating effect. Mercury is known to have dangerous and lasting neurological effects.