by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY on 08.17.10
photo: Rob Lee via flickr
Lots of environmentally bad stuff is happening as the world's permafrost melts, mostly in the realm of releasing stored greenhouse gases. But, as Conservation points out, a new report in the journal Science of the Total Environment finds that as a permafrost melts in northern Sweden, stored mercury has begun leaking from a peat bog into a nearby lake--something which could expand as temperatures continue to rise.
In addition to storing large amounts of greenhouse gases, peatlands also store mercury--some from natural sources, most coming from the emissions of burning fossil fuels. As you hopefully know, mercury and water is a highly toxic mix for life.
The study finds, "there is a very real potential that a substantial amount of mercury, and other organically bound and stored contaminants, might be released into arctic and sub-arctic surface waters from thawing permafrost."
Sediment Mercury Levels Rising at Rate Not Seen in Centuries
To come to that conclusion a team of researchers used core samples from a peat bog and lake-bottom sediments from northern Sweden to determine shifting mercury concentrations and compare them to past climate data. They found that "sediment mercury levels are now rising at 8.3 micrograms per square meter per year, a rate not seen in several centuries."