Warming temperatures in the far north could thaw permafrost and release massive amounts of poisonous mercury into the environment.
In a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Kevin Schaefer, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and other researchers said the tundra of Eurasia and North America contains around 32 million gallons of mercury, or enough to fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That’s almost twice as much as the rest of the world combined according to previous estimates, the researchers claimed.
“If any portion of the mercury is released from thawing permafrost, it would have a negative but unknown impact on food resources and environments. Mercury is a neurotoxin,” Schaefer told Seeker.
With US and Chinese government funding, among other sources, the international team of researchers drilled and measured the mercury and carbon in 13 soil cores from 2004 and 2012 in Alaska. They then compared their findings with previously published data on 11,000 mercury samples in cores from permafrost and other soils around the globe and discovered that their findings were consistent.
Problem is, climate change is warming the Arctic region, melting ice, and thawing permafrost.