Upper atmosphere facilitates changes that let mercury enter food chain

Dec 18, 2011

Humans pump thousands of tons of vapor from the metallic element mercury into the atmosphere each year, and it can remain suspended for long periods before being changed into a form that is easily removed from the atmosphere.

New research shows that the and lower stratosphere work to transform elemental mercury into oxidized mercury, which can easily be deposited into aquatic ecosystems and ultimately enter the food chain.

"The is acting as a to make the mercury more able to be deposited to ecosystems," said Seth Lyman, who did the work as a research assistant professor in science and technology at the University of Washington Bothell.

Lyman, now with Utah State University's Energy Dynamics Laboratory, is lead author of a paper documenting the research published online Dec. 19 by the journal Nature Geoscience. Daniel Jaffe, a science and technology professor at UW Bothell, is coauthor of the paper. The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The findings come from data gathered during research flights in October and November 2010 over North America and Europe by a National Center for Atmospheric .

The campaign used a device built at UW Bothell that can detect both elemental mercury and oxidized mercury in the same air sample, and the device recorded readings every 2.5 minutes. The flights typically are at altitudes of 19,000 to 23,000 feet, well below the confluence of the troposphere and the stratosphere, but several times during the 2010 flights – particularly on a trip from Bangor, Maine, to Broomfield, Colo. – the aircraft encountered streams of air that had descended from the stratosphere or from near it.

The result was the first time that the two mercury forms were measured together in a way that showed that elemental mercury is transformed into oxidized mercury, Lyman said, and evidence indicated the process occurs in the upper atmosphere.

Exactly how the oxidation takes place is not known with certainty but, once the transformation takes place, the oxidized mercury is quickly removed from the atmosphere, mostly through precipitation or air moving to the surface. After it settles to the surface, the oxidized mercury is transformed by bacteria into methyl mercury, a form that can be taken into the food chain and eventually can result in mercury-contaminated fish.

Some areas, such as the Southwest United States, appear to have specific climate conditions that allow them to receive more oxidized mercury from the upper atmosphere than other areas, Lyman noted.

He added that where the mercury settles to the surface can be thousands of miles from where it was emitted. For example, mercury from coal burning in Asia could rise into the atmosphere and circle the globe several times before it is oxidized, then could come to the surface anywhere. Understanding where it is oxidized and deposited would help efforts to predict ecosystem impacts of mercury emissions, he said.

"Much of emitted mercury is deposited far from its original sources," Lyman said. " emitted on the other side of the globe could be deposited right at our back door, depending on where and how it is transported, chemically transformed and deposited."

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User comments : 17

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Cave_Man
2.7 / 5 (7) Dec 18, 2011
I noticed the rain looked a little 'silvery' the other day. But seriously with all the neurotoxins building up in the atmosphere you would think we would have a compounded problem of increasing neurotoxins and decreasing intelligence. Which would make the problem unresolveable at a certain point because half the population would be so retarded their only prospects would be working at walmart. and the scientists would be about as smart as construction workers are today.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (6) Dec 18, 2011
LOL . . .good observation, Cave_Man. Humans may be evolving unbeknownst to themselves to adapt to such conditions. Regressive evolution may speed up as people like FH have clearly illustrated . Question is: how does mercury in the stratosphere affect global warming, or is it just a neurotoxin, and is it worse than CO2? Methyl mercury has already been found in tuna and other fish for decades, so this is not new. Their plane ride added more CO2, etc. into the atmosphere, but they don't count that.
Now watch the trolls come in and declare someone ignorant. . . :)
FrankHerbert
3.1 / 5 (110) Dec 18, 2011
Regressive evolution may speed up as people like FH have clearly illustrated .


Now watch the trolls come in and declare someone ignorant. . .


Hypocrite.
Pirouette
1.7 / 5 (9) Dec 18, 2011
LOL. . . .what did I tell you. . .I predicted it an it comes true. . .wooohooooo
barakn
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 18, 2011
"a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages ... with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. -wikipedia" That makes you the troll, Pirouette, though perhaps FrankHerbert should have known better than to respond.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2011
@barakn. .by that definition. . . .each thread I go into where the troll follows me to criticize everything I say .. . .telling lies about getting a PM from me saying the n word, when I have never sent him a PM, just so that his boyfriend Howhot could falsely accuse me of being a racist? And you're telling me I'M the troll? that's funny
Pirouette
1 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2011
not only that, but he consistently MISQUOTES what I've said. . . .but let's get back to the topic at hand , shall we?
bobtrain
5 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2011
Based on this report, should I not worry about another study that shows a definite local mercury footprint downwind of a coal-burning power blant?
Pirouette
2 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2011
I would say you would have a LOT to worry about if you're the unlucky one to live near the power plant. If you don't live near it. . . .you could still ask your county commissioners to have the air, water and soil tested regularly in your area. That should be paid for by your town taxes.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Dec 18, 2011
http://www.ncbi.n...C187012/

http://www.rdmag....mystery/

Etc, etc.

Maybe some high-altitude microbes thriving in the stratosphere ? Plenty of energy available for them to use....idk, just a thought.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2011
@isaacs. . . . .years ago in grammar school. . .science class teachers would bring a vial of mercury into class for the students to experience its properties by handling the mercury and examining it. Occasionally, someone would spill some of the mercury and everyone would try to gather up the small pieces to put back into the vial. I always suspected that maybe some pieces fell into cracks in the floor. It was an amazing element, that's for certain.
But I don't know if the sample in the vial was elemental mercury. Would you happen to know?
eachus
not rated yet Dec 18, 2011
Based on this report, should I not worry about another study that shows a definite local mercury footprint downwind of a coal-burning power plant?


No, you should do something about it.* Cottrell precipitators remove almost all of the particulate matter from flue gases, and should be installed on any coal burning plant anywhere. But just installed doesn't mean well maintained. Especially when boilers use common smokestacks, it limits the opportunities to clean the precipitators, and replace any sacrificial metal plates. These are to keep the acid in the flue gas from eating through the wires of the preciitators. They also help remove sulfur (as sulphate) and mercury.

If you are getting mercury downwind, it indicates either no precipitator, or operating the plant with the precipitator off or not working. (The heavier particles will be dropping to the ground in this area, but they are most likely to be removed by a precipitator.)

Of course, best is to use some other fuel.
eachus
5 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2011
* I hate coal burning power plants because I grew up in Pennsylvania and got to see a lot of the damage done to the local environment by coal mining, and of course, coal miners as well.

Oh, yes, that was mercury metal you were playing with, and yes it did get into cracks in the floor. Mad as a hatter, btw, came from the fact that hatters used metallic mercury, which did end up in floor crevices, and the vapor caused hatters to go crazy.

Also btw, don't believe most of the scare stories about mercury. Methyl mercury really is that bad, and swordfish in particular have high levels of methyl mercury in them. But this has been true since well before the start of the industrial era. No one knows what the fish do with the methyl mercury, but they do accumulate it.

Most (inorganic) mercury compounds are harmless to people. The whole child vaccine risk scare came from assuming ethyl mercury formed from the thimersol added to some vaccines was as bad as methyl mercury. It is not.
barakn
3.8 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2011
@barakn. .by that definition. . . .each thread I go into where the troll follows me to criticize everything I say .. . .telling lies about getting a PM from me saying the n word, when I have never sent him a PM, just so that his boyfriend Howhot could falsely accuse me of being a racist? And you're telling me I'M the troll? that's funny

Yes, I saw that thread. You all should be ashamed of yourselves. But that's beside the point. FrankHerbert was not in this thread when you said "Now watch the trolls come in." You knew you had something controversial and were gleefully awaiting the responses. Classic trolling, practically textbook.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (3) Dec 19, 2011
LOL. . .I learned it from the master himself.
I will attempt to curb my words because they seem to be offensive to you, only because you're a nice guy. :)
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2011
@barakn. .by that definition. . . .each thread I go into where the troll follows me to criticize everything I say .. . .telling lies about getting a PM from me saying the n word, when I have never sent him a PM, just so that his boyfriend Howhot could falsely accuse me of being a racist? And you're telling me I'M the troll? that's funny

Yes, I saw that thread. You all should be ashamed of yourselves. But that's beside the point. FrankHerbert was not in this thread when you said "Now watch the trolls come in." You knew you had something controversial and were gleefully awaiting the responses. Classic trolling, practically textbook.

Good post they were both acting shamefully and really de-railed the topic. I will add tho that Frank did call me. Faggot once in an PM.
bluehigh
1.1 / 5 (36) Dec 20, 2011
MarkyMark, I reckon you are just another alias for FrankH and jsdarkdestruction, playing stupid games. Maybe you got a split personality with psychotic tendencies. Calling yourself a faggot is pathetic. Prove me wrong.