Scientists find massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost

Scientists find massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost

SOURCE: AGU DATE: February 5, 2018 SNIP: Researchers have discovered permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury, a finding with significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide. In a new study, scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age. The study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined. Warmer air temperatures due to climate change could thaw much of the existing permafrost layer in the northern hemisphere. This thawing permafrost could release a large amount of mercury that could potentially affect ecosystems around the world. Mercury accumulates in aquatic and terrestrial food chains, and has harmful neurological and reproductive effects on animals. The study found approximately 793 gigagrams, or more than 15 million gallons, of mercury is frozen in northern permafrost soil. That is roughly 10 times the amount of all human-caused mercury emissions over the last 30 years, based on emissions estimates from...
The permafrost bomb is ticking

The permafrost bomb is ticking

SOURCE: Yale Climate Connections DATE: February 2, 2018 SNIP: About a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere landmass is permafrost, ground that has been mostly frozen for half a million years or more. Now there are signs of thaw appearing in many places across this vast landscape circling the Arctic, and at accelerated rates. It is only a matter of time until the incremental thawing of the permafrost reaches a tipping point of no return, a state of accelerated and irreversible change, the side effects of which might well push other parts of the Arctic beyond their own tipping points. The major side effect of a thawing permafrost is that it will further enhance global warming with the release of large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. During the last two million years, the climate has periodically shifted between cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) states. We are currently in an interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago. Not coincidentally, the beginning of this warm stable period marked the dawn of agrarian societies and complex human civilizations. The last time there was a large-scale thaw of the permafrost was four interglacials ago. At the time of the thaw, about 450,000 years ago, the climate was about 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Today, the temperature is nearly as warm – 1°C hotter than in pre-industrial times. Even more worrisome is the rate of the current warming, unprecedented in over 50 million years of geological history. Is it too late to prevent a regime shift in the Arctic? Possibly. That by no means implies that we might as well sit back and...
Changing landscape means some Arctic ponds may potentially be a significant source of carbon emissions

Changing landscape means some Arctic ponds may potentially be a significant source of carbon emissions

SOURCE: AAAS (EurekAlert) DATE: February 1, 2018 SNIP: A new Canadian study has found that carbon released by some ponds in the High Arctic could potentially be a hidden source of greenhouse gas emissions. The study looked at how dissolved organic carbon (DOC) stored in Arctic permafrost – which is thawing at an accelerated rate due to climate change – is being released into Arctic watersheds as a result of physical disturbances that relocate nutrients across the landscape. For the first-time researchers were able to determine that the chemical composition of carbon in these ponds is vastly different than in rivers in the High Arctic. “These ponds in the High Arctic seem to be hotspots for DOC degradation,” says Myrna Simpson, Professor of Environmental Science at U of T Scarborough and co-author of the research. “Very little consideration has been given to what’s happening with DOC in these ponds that are all over the Arctic, and it could potentially be a source of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere with these...
Is There A Ticking Time Bomb Under The Arctic?

Is There A Ticking Time Bomb Under The Arctic?

SOURCE: NPR DATE: January 24, 2018 SNIP: A short drive north of Fairbanks, Alaska, there’s a red shed stuck right up against a hillside. The shed looks unremarkable, except for the door. It looks like a door to a walk-in freezer, with thick insulation and a heavy latch. Whatever is behind that door needs to stay very cold. “Are you ready to go inside?” asks Dr. Thomas Douglas, a geochemist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Behind the door is a geological time bomb, scientists say. No one knows exactly how big the bomb is. It may even be a dud that barely detonates. But the fallout could be so large that it’s felt all around the world. Now there’s evidence that, in the past few years, the bomb’s timer has started ticking. All around are signs of extinct creatures. Tusks poke out of the ceiling and skulls stick up from the floor. But it’s the material between the bones that interests Douglas the most: the permafrost. For the first time in centuries, the Arctic permafrost is beginning to change — rapidly. It’s warming up. Some places are softening like a stick of butter left out on the kitchen counter. In northern Alaska, the temperature at some permafrost sites has risen by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in November. And in recent years, many spots have reached record...
Toxic Thaw Syndrome

Toxic Thaw Syndrome

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine DATE: January 11, 2018 SNIP: Concentrations of mercury in marine mammals in the Arctic are 10 to 12 times greater than they were in the preindustrial period, according to a 2017 report from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. The report also warns that the thawing of large areas of high-latitude frozen peatlands could release globally significant quantities of mercury into Arctic lakes, rivers, and oceans. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is a very high risk of elevated mercury levels among Arctic subsistence hunting communities that rely on seal and whale meat. The WHO estimated that consumption of mercury, a neurotoxin, may be causing an IQ loss of one to 13 points in people in these communities. 8.6 million cubic meters of ice and soil—enough to fill seven Houston Astrodomes—have been carried off from a 190-kilometer stretch of the Yukon coast between 1952 and 2011. The number of landslides, also called thaw slumps, increased 73 percent during that...