Melting Greenland leaks mercury, says new study

This July 17, 2007 file photo shows an iceberg melting in Kulusuk Bay, eastern Greenland.   | Photo Credit: AP

If the recent unprecedented melting of Greenland ice sheets is not bad enough, a new study has shown that the melting ice sheet is unleashing an astonishing amount of mercury into the country’s rivers and fjords. The mercury content was similar to that found in the polluted inland rives of China, the scientists observed.

Where did the mercury come from?

Unlike polluted rivers in other parts of the world, contaminated by industrial activity, the researchers believe the Greenland mercury is coming from natural sources. Given the lack of major industry in the region, researchers think these high concentrations are probably not from industrial sources, but from the rocks. Mercury occurs naturally in some rocks. As glaciers slowly flow downhill, they grind up the underlying rocks, potentially releasing mercury into their meltwater. As Greenland's glaciers continue to melt due to global warming, experts are worried even more trapped mercury could be released into the environment.

The researchers collected meltwater samples on expeditions to the ice sheet in 2012, 2015 and 2018. They also sampled water from several nearby fjords fed by the melting glaciers and found almost ten times the volume of mercury than normal rivers. The study draws attention to Greenland as a hotspot of natural mercury emissions.

Why is this a concern?

Greenland rivers and fjords support a rich marine ecosystem and the nation is a major exporter of seafood. Fish is the primary food of the island’s indigenous communities.

Large volumes of the metal can find its way into food webs through bioaccumulation and ultimately end up on our plates.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 10:54:23 AM |

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