Rising Mercury and cCimate Change
The haunting cries of the loon pierce the summer nights on lakes across Canada. But what is particularly haunting about loons in Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik Park is that they have some of the highest blood mercury concentrations in North America. Why do our lakes and animals contain such contaminants? How will climate change associated with global warming affect the problem?
To find out, Dr. Nelson O’Driscoll, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Biogeochemistry, is studying the processes that govern mercury movement.
Many freshwater fish have such high levels of mercury that they are considered unsafe for human consumption. Awareness has grown about the ill effects on human health of such contaminants as mercury, and knowledge about climate change has increased. But there is an urgent need to better understand how climate change may affect the impact of contaminants on ecosystems critical to human, animal and plant health.
Mercury, which is deposited by rain in ecosystems, may later be converted to methyl mercury, the toxic form that accumulates in fish and is a potential human health risk. O’Driscoll is examining the effects of changes in temperature, moisture and solar radiation on mercury retention in ecosystems.
Understanding the relationship between climate change and the long-term effects of environmental contaminants like mercury is crucial for human and animal populations. O’Driscoll’s research will increase our ability to predict which ecosystems will be sensitive to mercury accumulation with climate change, and help identify areas in the food web that are at risk for elevated mercury.