Carbon emissions trigger release of mercury into Yukon River
November 30, 2021

Study says carbon emissions trigger release of mercury into Yukon River from thawed permafrost

ANCHORAGE (US) – A study published on Wednesday in the Nature Communications journal has revealed that if carbon emissions go on at the present rate, mercury will leach from the thawing permafrost in the Yukon River and it will be dangerous to eat fish in a few decades.

The present emission rates will cause enough thawing to release mercury into the river bringing it above the federal safety guidelines by 2050.

By the end of the century, mercury level is expected to double in the river.

The study also said that if emissions are brought down as per the 2015 Paris Agreement, mercury concentrations will go up only by 14% towards the end of the century.

“A lot will depend on what we do in terms of response to climate change,” said Kevin Schaefer of the Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, the study’s lead author.

The indigenous communities in Alaska and Canada depend on Yukon River fish.

The river is “a bellwether or a canary-in-the-coal mine kind of thing, an indicator of what might happen over the whole Arctic,” he said. The thawing will release mercury from the land into the river, which will ultimately reach the ocean and the mercury released into the atmosphere will encircle the whole world.

“What happens in the Yukon is going to affect the entire globe, not just the people who live on or around the Yukon River,” he said.

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