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Excess mercury in the atmosphere is coming from the oceans, study claims

Published Mar 23rd, 2023 2:46PM EDT
Earth in space
Image: Tryfonov / Adobe

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The amount of mercury in our atmosphere is a little out of hand, and scientists may have figured out the cause. According to a new study published in the journal One Earth, the excessive mercury levels found in Earth’s atmosphere are coming from the oceans.  

Mercury is a toxic metal that exists as a silvery-white liquid at room temperature. It’s known to be present within our environment. As such, finding some levels of mercury in Earth’s atmosphere isn’t unexpected. However, scientists say that levels have reached levels higher than they should be.

When too much mercury is in the human body, it can cause a myriad of health occurrences in humans – including anxiety, depression, and other ailments. As such, mitigating high levels of mercury in Earth’s atmosphere is an important part of protecting our own bodies. While much of the mercury released into our atmosphere is caused by human activity, not all of it is tied directly to us.

mercury is a silvery white liquid that can evaporate and raise levels in earth's atmosphere to dangerous levelsImage source: marcel / Adobe

According to this new study, high levels of mercury appear to be transitioning to the atmosphere from our oceans. This makes sense, as most cases of mercury poison are reported after eating seafood. The researchers involved with the study appear to have connected those dots, which is why they started looking into where the higher levels in our atmosphere were coming from. 

To get a better idea of where the mercury was coming from, the researchers created a coupled atmosphere-land-ocean model system. They then began adding data from various sources that had found mercury at test sites. This helped the researchers create an estimate of the levels of mercury in the atmosphere and around the globe. 

However, the model showed one major discrepancy compared to the others. It showed a 40 percent increase in the levels of mercury entering Earth’s atmosphere each year. Further, the researchers estimated that much of that increase was coming from the Earth’s oceans. The model showed higher mercury levels in the ocean than previously thought as well as higher emissions. 

The researchers say that the higher levels of mercury in Earth’s atmosphere increase the risk that it could enter the environment and be harmful to humans. However, more testing will need to be conducted to find the hotspots where pockets of high levels of mercury reside so that it can be cleaned up, reducing the overall risk it poses. 

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.