Update: Volcanic Activity Supplies ‘Natural’ Mercury To Antarctic Glaciers, Not Humans
UPDATED 6-1-2021: A just-released research study by Jon Hawkings of Florida State University concluded that several of Greenland’s subglacial rivers and associated river ocean outlet areas contain extremely high concentrations of Mercury (here, here, and quotes from Jon Hawkings shown below).
“Unlike polluted rivers in other parts of the world, contaminated by industrial activity, the researchers believe the Greenland mercury is coming from natural sources.
“If it were coming from human pollution, then the snow on top of the ice sheet should also be full of mercury—yet previous studies have shown it’s comparatively clean. Instead, the scientists believe the meltwater mercury is probably leaching out of the bedrock beneath the ice.
“Mercury concentration in the meltwater rivers was at least an order of magnitude higher than the concentrations found in ordinary rivers across the Arctic. These concentrations became slightly diluted by the time they flowed out into the fjords—but were still higher than expected, the researchers say.
“Even after mingling with the salty water, the levels in the fjords remained about an order of magnitude higher than the mercury levels found in most open ocean waters.”
There are far-reaching implications of the study. First, the role mercury plays in altering many aspects of our planet’s environment has been underappreciated and underestimated.
Next, knowing that massive amounts of natural, geologically generated mercury in Greenland has gone unnoticed, are there other areas of our planet where mercury-rich rocks have infused earth’s rivers, ocean waters, glacial ice, and sea ice?
This information behooves the Unites State’s current administration to properly access the amount of environmentally damaging mercury present in other areas of Greenland, especially those areas where they hope to open-pit mine rare metals from geological rock layers. -END UPDATE-
Numerous media articles are claiming that the discovery of mercury and associated methyl mercury in West Antarctic Glaciers is a major man-made environmental disaster, however, these claims are incorrect because this mercury is actually from local volcanic sources.
The Antarctic Glaciers that recently tested positive for small amounts of mercury lie directly above the West Antarctic Rift, one of Earth’s largest and still volcanically active tectonic plate boundaries (Figure 1).
This 5,000-mile-long giant crack in the Earth’s upper crust is literally ripping the entire Antarctic continent apart, thereby generating huge deep-reaching open fractures that act to connect surface rock layers and ecosystems with vast quantities of heated, chemically charged, mercury-rich fluids.
Instead of being a man-made environmental disaster, the presence of mercury in West Antarctic glaciers is actually strong evidence that natural geological forces are at work in this region. It works like this.
Let’s begin by dispelling a misconception. Contrary to common opinion the entire Antarctic Continent is actually volcanically active, especially the portion that lies directly atop the West Antarctic Rift/Fault System. This may seem counterintuitive because much of Antarctica’s surface is covered by ice.
However, in a few locations on the surface, many locations beneath the ice, and many locations beneath Antarctica’s surrounding oceans circumstances are very different. Here geologically induced volcanic activity is surprisingly active.
First, there are three currently erupting volcanoes associated with the West Antarctica Rift / Fault trend; Mount Erebus (central portion of the Rift), Mount Surabaya (northern portion of the Rift), and Mount Curry (northern portion of the Rift).
The Mount Surabaya and Mount Curry eruptions have been prominently mentioned in recent media articles documenting massive amounts of chemical-laden ash that threatens the life of one million penguins (Figure 2).
Ash from these land-based West Antarctic Rift/Fault volcanic eruptions is proven to contain natural mercury (see quote and reference below). This mercury is currently being incorporated into the surface of vast regions of glacial ice and ocean waters surrounding Antarctica (Figure 3).
“Mercury is released by most volcanoes and has been measured at Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Hekla, Erebus, at Mount St. Helens (Siegel and Siegel, 1987). The Kilauea volcano produces about 270 tons of mercury each year and has been identified as the source of mercury on Oahu, 320 km away.” (http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/151
Figure 3: Ash coats glacial ice.
Secondly, researchers recently discovered a 500-mile long string of currently active deep ocean volcanoes (seamounts) and associated hydrothermal vents along the subsea northern end of the West Antarctic Rift / Fault (Figure 4).
Other significant indications that the entire Antarctic Continent is volcanically active include:
- The existence of a huge interconnected network of subglacial freshwater lakes and streams. This system is generated and maintained by geologically induced chemically charged hot springs that are proven to exist along the full length of the West Antarctic Rift / Fault trend (see here).
- Recent volcanic activity in Antarctica’s Kerguelen Plateau, including the recent eruption of the Big Ben volcano, is the likely source of significant warming and chemical charging of the ocean in this region (see here).
- Discovery of a huge sub-glacial lake caused by geothermal / fault-induced heat flow in the East Antarctic (see here).
- Research confirming that the melting of selected West Antarctic Glaciers is from natural and non-human induced heat (see here).
- Antarctica Ice Core information clearly shows that huge sub-polar ice caps in West Antarctic volcanic eruptions have occurred on a regular basis, for instance, 44,000 and one 22,000 years ago. These monstrous eruptions broke through the ancient ice and spewed huge amounts of chemically charged ash onto the ancient ice sheets and into surrounding ancient oceans (see here).
In summary, most scientists agree that life on earth originated billions of years ago in the deep dark recesses of our oceans where hydrothermal vents provided just the right mixture of heat, chemicals, metals such as mercury, and nutrient-rich seawater.
This general knowledge and information from numerous reliable research studies indicate that the presence of mercury or methyl mercury is not in and of itself proof that humans have interfered with ecosystems.
When considering the historical and present-day geological setting of Antarctica it becomes clear that the presence of rare metals in the glacial ice of this region is most likely of natural origin, specifically natural geological forces.
The involvement of man-made global warming/climate change has been greatly overstated.
http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a6788/enormous-underwater-volcanoes-discovered-near-antarctica/ Deep ocean volcanoes north of Antarctica)
http://www.janethull.com/newsletter/0712/mercury_from_volcanoes.php Worldwide mercury from volcanoes on land and in ocean
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969700005581 Mercury from Europe Volcanoes
http://noc.ac.uk/science-technology/earth-ocean-system/seafloor/hydrothermal-vents Antarctica Hydrothermal Vents
http://phys.org/news/2010-03-scientists-apparent-hydrothermal-vents-antarctica.html#nRlv Antarctica Hydrothermal Vents
http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/volcanocarb.htm volcanoes end ice age in Ordovician
http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v320/p253-258/ Methyl mercury in Mid-Atlantic Rift Vent Regions
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080629081932.htm Volcanic Mercury
http://phys.org/news/2013-02-shimmering-reveals-cold-volcanic-vent.html Antarctic Cold Vents
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