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NSF: Mercury in the world's oceans: On the rise

NSF: Mercury in the world's oceans: On the rise

Little was known about how much mercury in the environment was the result of human activities, or how much "bioavailable" mercury was in the world's oceans. Until now.

The first direct calculation of mercury pollution in the world's oceans, based on data from 12 oceanographic sampling cruises during the last eight years, is reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists involved are affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, Wright State University in Ohio, the Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in the Netherlands.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the European Research Council. It was led by WHOI marine chemist Carl Lamborg. The results offer a look at the global distribution of mercury in the marine environment.

"Mercury is an environmental poison that's detectable wherever we look for it, including the ocean abyss," says Don Rice, director of the NSF's Chemical Oceanography Program.

"These scientists have reminded us that the problem is far from abatement, especially in regions of the world's oceans where the human fingerprint is most distinct."

Mercury is a naturally occurring element as well as a by-product of such human activities as burning coal and making cement.

"If we want to regulate mercury emissions into the environment and in the food we eat, we should first know how much is there and how much human activity is adding every year," says Lamborg.

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