Mercury in Permafrost: The waking giant has poisonous breath

The anti-vaccination crowd has a tradition of freaking out over Thiomersol, a mercury compound, being in vaccines. It’s another example of how well-crafted misinformation capitalizes on a partial truth combined with general ignorance. What has been interesting to note is that the same people don’t put nearly as much effort into reducing mercury emissions from coal-fire power plants, even though that’s a mercury compound known to be dangerous, and we’re all exposed to far greater amounts of mercury from those emissions than from vaccines.

Well, here’s an opportunity for them to show a renewed commitment to their fight against mercury exposure:

In a new study, scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age.

The study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.(emphasis mine)

Well, fuck.

Schuster et al. don’t have any predictions for how much of that will end up in the atmosphere or the oceans, but as with global warming itself, once certain conditions are met, the outcome is just basic physics. Expose more mercury to the atmosphere, and you get more mercury in the atmosphere. Expose more mercury to the food chain, and you get more mercury in the food chain.

“There would be no environmental problem if everything remained frozen, but we know the Earth is getting warmer,” Schuster said. “Although measurement of the rate of permafrost thaw was not part of this study, the thawing permafrost provides a potential for mercury to be released — that’s just physics.”

This is not the first nasty surprise waiting for us as the planet warms, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We’ve got a lot of work to do, little time to do it in, and a bunch of evil scumbags preventing us from trying to save civilization.

Get out the vote.

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  1. coragyps says

    Not to worry – that mercury is nearly all gluten-free mercury. 😵

    Much safer!!!!

  2. chigau (違う) says

    Oh, well. I’m old. It probably won’t kill me that much sooner.

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