An alarming new study has found that human activities mostly associated with burning fossil fuels has resulted in a massive increase in the levels of toxic mercury in the world’s oceans.
Published last week in the prestigious international journal Nature, the study, A global ocean inventory of anthropogenic mercury based on water column measurements, revealed that levels of the environmental poison in marine waters less than 100 metres deep have more than tripled since the Industrial Revolution.
Using water samples collected during research trips in the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern and Arctic oceans from 2006 until 2011, scientists analyzed mineral mercury levels attributed to fossil fuels, mining and sewage in both shallow and deep seawater.
While they found that mercury levels in ocean waters less than 100 metres deep had increased by a factor of 3.4 since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, concentrations of mercury throughout the entire ocean had only jumped about 10 percent.
The scientists were affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Wright State University, Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France, and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.
“With the increases we’ve seen in the recent past, the next 50 years could very well add the same amount we’ve seen in the past 150,” said Woods Hole marine chemist Carl Lamborg, who led the study.
“The trouble is, we don’t know what it all means for fish and marine mammals. It likely means some fish also contain at least three times more mercury than 150 years ago, but it could be more. The key is now we have some solid numbers on which to base continued work.”