Nav: Home

Lightning strikes: Thunderstorms spread mercury pollution

August 31, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the southern United States, an afternoon thunderstorm is part of a regular summer day. But new research shows those storms might be doing more than bringing some scary thunder and lightning. In fact, these storms are moving significant amounts of mercury to the ground.

In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Assistant Professor of Meteorology Christopher Holmes writes that thunderstorms have 50 percent higher concentrations of mercury than other rain events.

"The mercury is being transported into our region by winds, and tall thunderstorms are bringing it down to the earth," Holmes said.

Holmes and a team of researchers collected rain in a variety of locations in Florida, as well as Vermont, Georgia and Wisconsin. They then matched it to weather data that told them whether it was from a thunderstorm or just rain. They also used radar and satellite data to examine storm clouds.

In a regular rainstorm, clouds are only a few kilometers thick. In a thunderstorm, they reach about 15 kilometers thick. Researchers found that more mercury was in rain from the clouds that reached the highest altitudes.

"The highest concentrations occurred during thunderstorms and the lowest during a regular rainstorm," Holmes said.

For the last 20 years, the Mercury Deposition Network has recorded mercury content of precipitation across the United States. During this period, the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico have consistently seen the highest mercury deposition in the eastern U.S., typically double that of the northeast states.

Typically, the Southeast sees a high number of thunderstorms in the summer months. Holmes and his colleagues believe that this is the reason the Southeast has higher levels of mercury in rain.

Mercury is a naturally occurring chemical element that is used in several devices such as thermometers, barometers, fluorescent lamps and other devices. Exposure to high levels of mercury can be dangerous though.

Holmes said now that researchers know that the storms are spreading the mercury, they need to understand why there are high amounts of mercury at these higher altitudes and how it affects the Earth.

"We're trying to understand how mercury enters ecosystems in the U.S. and how it can affect people and wildlife," Holmes said.
-end-
Holmes' co-authors on the project are FSU graduate student Nishanth Krishnamurthy and FSU Professor William Landing; Jane Caffrey from the University of West Florida; Eric Edgerton from Atmospheric Research & Analysis Inc.; Kenneth Knapp from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Udaysankar Nair from the University of Alabama.

The work was supported by Florida State University, the Electric Power Research Institute and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Florida State University

Related Mercury Articles:

Climate changes may lead to more poisonous mercury in plankton
Global warming is expected to increase runoff and input of organic matter to aquatic ecosystems in large regions of the Northern hemisphere including the Baltic Sea.
Giant 'great valley' found on Mercury
A giant valley on the planet Mercury makes the Grand Canyon look tiny by comparison.
Lightning strikes: Thunderstorms spread mercury pollution
In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Assistant Professor of Meteorology Christopher Holmes writes that thunderstorms have 50 percent higher concentrations of mercury than other rain events.
Mercury exposure in Canada's northern indigenous communities
Mercury exposure is common in communities in Canada's north, especially in indigenous peoples who consume fish and other wild food with high mercury content, yet current clinical guidelines are not adequate for this population.
Alaska's shorebirds exposed to mercury
Shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to mercury at levels that could put their populations at risk, according to new research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications.
IRIS releases new imagery of Mercury transit
On May 9, 2016, a NASA solar telescope called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, observed Mercury crossing in front of the sun -- an astronomical phenomenon known as a Mercury transit.
Satellites to see Mercury enter spotlight on May 9
It happens only a little more than once a decade and the next chance to see it is Monday, May 9, 2016.
You taste like mercury, said the spider to the fly
More mercury than previously thought is moving from aquatic to land food webs when stream insects are consumed by spiders, a Dartmouth College-led study shows.
Mercury rising?
Researchers at UCSB's Earth Research Institute study potential mercury methylation in two California rivers.
Mercury's mysterious 'darkness' revealed
Scientists have long been puzzled by Mercury's very dark surface.

Related Mercury Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#520 A Closer Look at Objectivism
This week we broach the topic of Objectivism. We'll be speaking with Keith Lockitch, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, about the philosophy of Objectivism as it's taught through Ayn Rand's writings. Then we'll speak with Denise Cummins, cognitive scientist, author and fellow at the Association for Psychological Science, about the impact of Objectivist ideology on society. Related links: This is what happens when you take Ayn Rand seriously Another Critic Who Doesn’t Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She’s Wrong Quote is from "A Companion to Ayn Rand"