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High Mercury Content in Glacial Meltwaters of Greenland:

  • Uncategorized
  • Jul 23, 2021

New research shows that, concentrations of the poisonous element mercury in rivers and fjords associated with the Greenland ice sheet are comparable to rivers in industrial sector of China. the meltwater from the glaciers sampled in Southwest Greenland has surprisingly high levels of mercury as said by Jon Hawkings, postdoctoral fellow at Florida State University and the German Research Center for Geosciences. Many questions, such as how this mercury could end up in the food chain and the impact of melting glaciers on few areas have risen up.  The international study began as a collaboration between Hawkings and glaciologist Jemma Wadham, professor at the Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol. First, the researchers took water samples from three different rivers and two fjords along the ice sheet to better understand the quality of the meltwater from the glacier and how the nutrients in this meltwater can sustain coastal ecosystems. One of the elements measured was mercury, a potentially toxic element and was found in the water with high concentrations. The typical dissolved mercury content in rivers is approximately 1 to 10 ng L-1 (equivalent to an amount of mercury the size of a grain of salt in an Olympic pool). In glaciers sampled in Greenland, the scientists found dissolved mercury levels above 150 ng L-1, much higher than the average river. Particulate mercury carried along by glacier dust the sediment that makes Glacier Rivers appear milky and was found in very high concentrations of more than 2000 ng L-1. The researchers are not sure whether the mercury concentrations will continue to detach from the ice sheet and whether this glacier mercury gets into the aquatic food web, where it can often concentrate.

Researchers have informed that they had hypotheses, of course, as to what leads to these high levels of mercury, but these results have raised a myriad of questions to which they still have no answers. Fishing is Greenland's main industry and the country is a major exporter of Greenland shrimp, halibut and cod as well. All previous efforts to manage mercury stem from the idea that the increasing concentrations we see across the Earth system are primarily due to direct anthropogenic activities such as industries high production level as said by Hawkings.