Last month I had the opportunity to participate in the 12th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant on Jeju Island in South Korea. The biennial conference brings together scientists, medical professionals, industry leaders, and policy makers who share a common intent of protecting human health and the environment from mercury pollution. I spent one week discussing data with other oceanographers from Europe and the United States, learning about the human health impacts of mercury from fish consumption and mining activities, and branching out into new territory to prepare for my work this summer in the Arctic Ocean. I presented data from the 2013 GEOTRACES Pacific cruise described in this blog, and from a collaborative project that measured fluxes of mercury from rivers and estuaries flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Gala dinner on Jeju Island at the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant
This year was the first mercury conference since the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) established the Minamata Convention in 2013. The convention is a global treaty signed by 128 countries (including the United States) to reduce the production, use, and emissions of mercury. Members from the UNEP were present to discuss their goals and current challenges. Mercury pollution can traverse the world through riverine discharge, ocean currents, and global air circulation – one nation’s effort to reduce emissions can easily be negated by increased emissions from another country. This type of global effort is necessary to make real progress in reducing the amount of anthropogenic mercury in the environment. The backbone of this convention is decades of scientific research and its successful implementation is a great example of what can happen when science and policy work together.
And then there was MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome)…an outbreak that has been spreading through South Korea. The illness has claimed 27 lives in the past month inducing some panic in regards to traveling through the country. On the fourth day of the conference the Korean government released a statement explaining that a MERS patient had recently visited Jeju island and stayed at a hotel were many conference attendees were residing. The illness only seems to be spreading through hospitals where infected patients were treated and the World Health Organization had not issued any travel bans. At the airports passengers wearing paper masks were pulled aside and checked for MERS symptoms (high fever), many flights through China were canceled, and the population of tourists on the island was noticeable scarce. But despite these concerns, we all had a productive and enjoyable week on the island. Korea is a beautiful country with the friendliest people and I can’t wait to go back!
Exploring Jeju Island with friends from the University of Connecticut and Dartmouth.
Korea travel photo gallery:
Having some fun in the South Pacific during the last GEOTRACES cruise in 2013, can’t touch this!
Stellwagon Bank Marine Sanctuary (North Atlantic), April 2015. Humpback whales can consume up to 3000 lbs of food each day. Here a humpback whales uses its tail to smack the water and stun a group of fish below; the whale then dives down and swoops back up with an open mouth devouring its catch.
Today is World Oceans Day!! The Consortium for Ocean Leadership is hosting a twitter event to celebrate from 1-5 PM (eastern time) – tweet any question about the ocean with #MyOceanQ. I’ll be volunteering with a group of oceanographers to answer as many questions as we can! Check out this link for ideas on ways to celebrate 🙂
With Pacific GEOTRACES a year in the past and an Arctic cruise fast approaching (see countdown on the right panel)…it’s time for an update! This year between cruises has been quite eventful for me in all of the best ways possible. I defended my dissertation and became Dr. Bowman in December 2014. After writing a 300 page dissertation, I gave a public defense at Wright State University. The whole lab showed up in coordinated Hawaiian shirts and my committee members flew in from California and Connecticut for the big day.
The main bulk of my dissertation work was done on two cruises, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both chronicled in this blog. The Atlantic results are now published in a journal called Deep Sea Research II and the Pacific paper is in the works.
Looking at the chemistry of water in the deep ocean is like flipping through the pages of a history book. Water in the deep ocean comes from the surface of polar seas where dense cold water sinks and begins a 1000 year long journey around the globe. Physical properties and radioisotopes in deep water are used to determine age, or time since the water was last in contact with the atmosphere. The international GEOTRACES program has sampled deep water between 90 and 900 years old, creating a timeline for mercury in the ocean. Since the industrial revolution began some 200 years ago humans have increased the amount of mercury in the atmosphere and now from our timeline, we can see concentrations of mercury in the ocean have increased as well.
American Geophysical Meeting, San Francisco, CA (Dec 2014)
One week after my dissertation defense I walked across the stage at graduation . My family and friends traveled to Dayton to help me celebrate and the next day I jumped on a plane to California! This research business never stops. I presented my work from the Pacific cruise at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting as I had earlier in the year at Ocean Sciences in Hawaii.
A few weeks after graduation I loaded up Liberty Bell (my jeep) and drove 2,700 miles across the country to Santa Cruz, California. After six years working as a “Midwest Oceanographer” I’m happy to report that I’ve finally moved to the coast! I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz where I will continue to study mercury in the ocean, and of course run hginthesea!
Driving across the country
Hiking break from the great american road trip in the Grand Canyon
California, my new home 🙂
This week our research team published an article in Nature discussing the amount of mercury in the ocean from human activities. Surface ocean mercury concentrations have tripled since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Today, the main source of mercury from human activity comes from coal-fired power plants like those found in the United States and developing countries like China and India. Once in the ocean, mercury is transformed to a chemical compound called methylmercury, a neurotoxin that biomagnifies in fish and ends up on our dinner plates. In the United States alone, millions of women have blood mercury levels high enough to effect fetal neurodevelopment. Click here to read more about the study.
Data for this new publication was collected on the 2011 North Atlantic GEOTRACES cruise chronicled in this blog, and on other similar expeditions.Scroll down to read about life at sea and what’s it’s like to do science out in the middle of the ocean.
Team Hg, after reaching the 3000 sample mark!
Dr. Rebecca Schwarzlose is a neuroscientist, writer, and mother that maintains a blog called Garden of the Mind. Today she writes about fish consumption during pregnancy, weighing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the risks of toxic methylmercury. Check out her post “The trouble with (and without) fish” at http://gardenofthemind.com/ for a fresh perspective!