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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Toxic Fog

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, April 19, 2018/Categories: sustainability, environment

                                    Fog Collector Sampling Equipment (credit: FogNet at UCSC)

Being from coastal California, the "fog season" was always something I looked forward to during May-July. Fog forms when an air mass moves over cold ocean currents near a coastline. It is influenced by air temperature, topography, and wind conditions and is a particularly common environmental feature along the entire West Coast. However, something has now become altered in this important atmospheric condition which isn't good.

                                            Coastal California Fog Layer (credit: Wikicommons)

Professional and citizen-scientists using a University of California monitoring system called FogNet have sampled fogs on the northern California coast from Monterrey to Eureka for several years. Their measurements have detected an unwanted bit chemistry attached to the fogs---toxic mercury.

Researchers at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory and UC Santa Cruz, supported by the National Science Foundation, have conducted boat excursions to the California continental margin to determine where the mercury might be originating. Sampling the water column, marine phyto-plankton, and sediments from the sea bed. The Lab determined that the powerful California Current was pulling dimthylmercury (a neurotoxin) from the depths and marine aerosols were converting the chemistry to methylmercury in the fog.

Speaking at the American Geophysical Union meetings in San Francisco one researcher said: "when the fog moves ashore the mercury is deposited on the land. That’s the working model we've now developed."

Mercury is a toxic metal produced by coal-fired power plants, certain mining operations such as gold mining, and various other industrial processes. Any mercury pollution in the oceans comes from land run-off deposits where it can cause marine ecosystem damage. The metal is readily absorbed by plankton and moves up the food-chain into the blood of marine mammals, the tissues of salmon and other fish, and can cause serious neurological and reproductive problems in humans if ingested in high concentrations. A video was produced to illustrate how mercury can be delivered to land via fog:

Additional research is needed to determine the amount of mercury being deposited along the coast by toxic fogs and the health consequences. However, the altered fogs are one more example of environmental
connections inherent to natural environments on which animals, plants, and humans depend.



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