Mercury in Pacific to Rise by 50% by 2050

06/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mercury levels in the Pacific Ocean have risen by 30 percent in the past 20 years and are expected to increase by 50 percent in the next few decades as emissions from power plants and other industrial sources rise, according to a new study. Scientists from Harvard University and the U.S. Geological Survey discovered the increases after sampling mercury levels at 16 locations in the Pacific Ocean and comparing them with historical data, according to the study, published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles. The mercury eventually settles in large predatory fish, such as tuna, and can cause neurological and other health problems in people who consume large quantities of fish. The study also documented for the first time how mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources winds up in fish. 1

Documentaries like Silent Snow illustrate the dangers mercury contamination pose to the animals and people living off the oceans where containments gather. So, how does the mercury get into the food stream? M ethylmercury is produced in mid-depth ocean waters by processes linked to the "ocean rain". Algae, which are produced in sunlit waters near the surface, die quickly and "rain" downward to greater water depths. 2

  1. Steep Rise in Ocean Mercury (Yale Environment 360)
  2. Mercury in Pacific to Rise by 50% by 2050 (treehugger)