A Ticking Time Bomb of Mercury Is Hidden Beneath Earth’s Permafrost

Feb 6, 2018

By Brandon Specktor

When the mercury’s rising in your thermometer, it may also be rising in the ocean.

According to a new study published Feb. 5 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, theremay be more than 15 million gallons (58 million liters) of mercury buried in the permafrost of the Northern Hemisphere — roughly twice as much mercury as can be found in the rest of Earth’s soils, ocean and atmosphere combined. And if global temperatures continue to rise, all that mercury could come pouring out.

In geology, permafrost is defined as any soil that has been frozen for more than two years. In the Northern Hemisphere, permafrost accounts for about 8.8 million square miles (22.79 million square kilometers) of land — or roughly 24 percent of exposed Earth, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over time, naturally occurring compounds in the atmosphere, such as mercury and carbon dioxide, can bind with organic material in the soil and be frozen into permafrost, potentially remaining trapped underground for thousands of years before it thaws, the new paper said.

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2 comments on “A Ticking Time Bomb of Mercury Is Hidden Beneath Earth’s Permafrost

  • Meanwhile, in an alternate universe, US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Environment Committee in January.

    As Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the anti-environmental lawyer and energy industry lobbyist Pruitt has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that rising levels of carbon dioxide from human-fueled activity are warming the planet.

    He’s now taking a different tack: Even if climate change is occurring, as the vast majority of scientists say it is, a warmer atmosphere might not be so awful for humans, according to Pruitt.

    “We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends,” Pruitt said Tuesday during an interview in Las Vegas. “So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”
    Pruitt continued: “There are very important questions around the climate issue that folks really don’t get to. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve talked about having an honest, open, transparent debate about what do we know, what don’t we know, so the American people can be informed and they can make decisions on their own with respect to these issues.”

    Sure, Scott, so when it comes to things like drought, or flooding, or mercury poisoning, we can, like, take it or leave it.

    I mean, it would be ‘arrogant’ to deny the people the choice, right?

  • I think it was a Stanford study that indeed showed there would be some economic winners from Global Warming. Hundreds of percent GDP uplift in one scenario by 2100 for Canada and Russia. 30 plus percent for the UK even. The US? Minus 40 plus percent. These are just first order effects. Productivity plunges rapidly with temperature above the Goldilocks zone and this zone will move rapidly towards the poles.

    Africa becomes a wasteland of the most tragic and devastating sort, GDP falling 80 to 90% as well as exploding with people as a response to burgeoning poverty. Mexicans will suffer likewise.

    Mass migrations to north and south could well descend into obscene Global Civil Wars. On the plus side, these make it a tragedy for the irredeemably selfish also. No one comes out a winner for long.

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