Climate Change: Oceanic Mercury Levels Expected To Increase

Levels of highly toxic mercury in bodies of water is expected to increase. It could jump by up to 200 to 600 percent in zooplanktons or small animals in the oceans. Such increase is possible due to climate change, which would lead to increase of mercury in the aquatic food chain.

Mercury is very dangerous to human health. The World Health Organization (WHO), listed it as one of the top ten chemicals regarded as public health concerns. Exposure to water-soluble forms of mercury, such as mercuric chloride or methylmercury, can result to mercury poisoning. With zooplanktons located at the base of the marine food chain, this chemical might be accumulated by fish that people eat.

In a study published in Science Advances, researchers from Rutgers University tried to simulate marine ecosystems. Observing the zooplanktons and other organisms to find out how bacteria could transform into highly toxic methylmercury. Results revealed that the increase of natural organic matter from plants and animals caused by climate change can boost the bioaccumulation of methylmercury in in zooplankton by 200 to 700 percent.

"We found that the increase in organic matter changed the food web structure in the simulated estuary and that had an impact on the mercury accumulation in zooplankton," Jeffra K. Schaefer, study coauthor and assistant research professor in Rutgers' Department of Environmental Sciences said according to Rutgers University. "That was the most dramatic effect," she added.

Schaefer explained that runoff of such matter in the coasts is expected to increase due of heavy precipitation in many areas in the Northern Hemisphere brought about climate change. The study added that mercury in marine ecosystems have increased by about 200 to 500 percent since the beginning of the beginning of the industrial era. Methylmercury accumulated in marine animals used as food source such as fish and shellfish can bring dangers to the nervous, digestive and immune systems. It can also damage the kidneys, lungs, skin and eyes.

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