Friday, February 26, 2016

Thanks, China. Any Chance You Could Stop Messing Us Up?

If you're looking for Chinese exports, you won't find all of it lining Wal-Mart shelves. It's even present in our rainwater in the form of potentially dangerous levels of mercury.

Several years after scientists thought they had put the problem to rest, they have once again discovered increasing concentrations of mercury, this time in rainwater. “It’s a surprising result,” says David Gay from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, who is a co-author on the new study. “Everybody expected [mercury levels] to continue going down. But our analysis shows that may not necessarily be the case.”

The results, recently published in Science of the Total Environment, is surprising because long-term trends had shown a decrease in mercury emissions whereas data collected between 2007 and 2013 indicate an unsettling upturn from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest. The trend, however, is not due to regional activity. The authors speculate that because the U.S. has controlled its emissions since the 1970s, the toxic element was initially released via coal-burning power plants in Asia, drifted through the upper atmosphere for months, hit turbulence over the Rocky Mountains and was then pulled from the air in the form of rain.

“As a general rule, we are very concerned about mercury because it can be present at very dilute levels in the environment, parts per trillion, but in the food chain—in a food that we eat and that other animals eat—it can reach levels that are toxic,” says Peter Weiss-Penzias from the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the study. Mercury magnifies as it travels up the food chain from minnows to fish to large mammals, including human beings. Pregnant women, for example, are often discouraged from eating fish because the element poses extreme risks to the developing fetus, particularly the central nervous system and brain.

It is possible that the calculated rise of 2 percent per year will result in a large accumulation in the ecosystem over the coming years, Weiss-Penzias says. “And once an ecosystem is contaminated with mercury, it can take decades for it to become uncontaminated.”


Dana said...

The end may be closer than we think. Pollinators becoming extinct, arable soil becoming exhausted and now facing rising levels of mercury as well, estimates of survivable temperature rise now being cited as too generous, new contagions emerging and now blindly stumbling toward a world wide tribal war on top of all that.

"I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you, and I think to myself..."

The Mound of Sound said...

Amen to that, pal. I recently mulled over what it must be like in the Earth Sciences department these days to be teaching the young the basics of climate change when, from one year to the next, old findings are disproven as unduly optimistic.

There are two aspects to this, man-made inputs and natural feedback loops, the latter of which we failed to properly factor in and assess. A lot of our modelling has focused too heavily on anthropogenic global warming to the exclusion of the natural inputs which led to overly optimistic results that are now getting regularly trashed.

The underlying purpose of Kyoto was to arrest man made warming before we reached "tipping points" that would trigger natural feedback loops, a.k.a. runaway global warming. We thought 2C would give us a reasonable chance of not awakening nature. Yet today we see very powerful natural feedback loops happening and we're barely at 1C.

The "consensus" trap of the IPCC was its undoing that spawned a lot of unsound optimism and false hope. The IPCC not only failed mankind, it somewhat unintentionally betrayed humanity.

Toby said...

Mound, I don't blame the IPCC. We started getting warnings fifty years ago and more. We never really needed an IPCC to tell us that dumping poisons into water, air and land is a bad idea. Just breathing the air in any city should have told us that spewing crap all over the place would eventually have a price. The massive population explosion of the last century should have told us that we have a big problem on the way. Etc.

Since Kyoto I blame vested interests like the Koch Brothers and politicians like Stephen Harper and religious leaders for doing whatever they could to stop us from taking remedial actions.