On The Radio- 793 gigagrams of mercury found in Alaska


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Glacier Bay National Park (pontla/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 5, 2018

This week’s segment looks at research published in last month’s Geophysical Research Letters about the amount of mercury found in Arctic permafrost in Alaska.

Transcript: 

New research states that Arctic permafrost in Alaska holds more mercury than expected.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Arctic permafrost is frozen soil, rock, and sediment that stays at or below freezing for at least two consecutive years. A quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s landmass is covered by permafrost.

Recently a group of scientists drilled into 13 soil cores taken from different parts of Alaska. The findings reported that the permafrost held 793 gigagrams of mercury. This is equivalent to more than 15 million gallons or 23 Olympic size swimming pools. These numbers continue to increase if you add the current thawed layer of soil that sits above it.

By 2100 anywhere from 30 to 99 percent of the permafrost could have thawed leaving the question: Where will the mercury go?

Carl Lamborg, an assistant professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz discussed in an interview that it’s unclear what will happen to the mercury when the permafrost thaws but there is reason for concern. More research will be needed to understand the impact of mercury in the atmosphere.

These new findings were published last month in the Geophysical Research Letters.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

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