Numerous media articles are claiming that the discovery of mercury and associated methyl mercury in West Antarctic Glaciers is a major manmade environmental disaster, however, these claims are incorrect because this mercury is actually from local volcanic sources. Research studies prove that mercury is common and naturally generated, and then naturally altered to methyl mercury in volcanic environments (see here, see here, see here).
The Antarctic Glaciers that recently tested positive for small amounts of mercury lie directly above the West Antarctic Rift , one of Earth’s largest and still volcanically active tectonic plate boundaries (Figure 1). This 5,000-mile long giant crack in Earth’s upper crust is literally ripping the entire Antarctic continent apart, thereby generating huge deep reaching open fractures that act to connect surface rock layers and ecosystems with vast quantities of heated, chemically charged, and mercury rich fluids.
Instead of being a manmade environmental disaster, the presence of mercury in West Antarctic glaciers is actually strong evidence that natural geological forces are at work in this region. It works like this.
Let’s begin by dispelling a misconception. Contrary to common opinion the entire Antarctic Continent is actually volcanically active, especially the portion that lies directly atop the West Antarctic Rift / Fault System. This may seem counterintuitive because much of Antarctica’s surface is covered by ice. However, in a few locations on the surface, many locations beneath the ice, and many locations beneath Antarctica’s surrounding oceans circumstances are very different. Here geologically induced volcanic activity is surprisingly active.
First, there are three currently erupting volcanoes associated with the West Antarctica Rift / Fault trend; Mount Erebus (central portion of the Rift), Mount Surabaya (northern portion of the Rift), and Mount Curry (northern portion of the Rift). The Mount Surabaya and Mount Curry eruptions have been prominently mentioned in recent media articles documenting massive amounts of chemical-laden ash that threatens the life of one million penguins (Figure 2). Ash from these land-based West Antarctic Rift / Fault volcanic eruptions is proven to contain natural mercury (see quote and reference below). This mercury is currently being incorporated into the surface of vast regions of glacial ice and ocean waters surrounding Antarctica (Figure 3).
“Mercury is released by most volcanoes and has been measured at Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Hekla, Erebus, at Mount St. Helens (Siegel and Siegel, 1987). The Kilauea volcano produces about 270 tons of mercury each year and has been identified as the source of mercury on Oahu, 320 km away.” (http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/151
Secondly, researchers recently discovered a 500-mile long string of currently active deep ocean volcanoes (seamounts) and associated hydrothermal vents along the subsea northern end of the West Antarctic Rift / Fault (Figure 4). Many recent and reliable research studies prove that mercury is proven to be generated naturally in deep ocean hydrothermal vents (see here, here, and References Appendix).
Other significant indications that the entire Antarctic Continent is volcanically active include:
- The existence of a huge interconnected network subglacial freshwater lakes and streams. This system is generated and maintained by geologically induced chemically charged hot springs that are proven to exist along the full length of the West Antarctic Rift / Fault trend (see here).
- Recent volcanic activity in Antarctica’s Kerguelen Plateau, including the recent eruption of the Big Ben volcano, is the likely source of significant warming and chemical charging of the ocean in this region (see here).
- Discovery of a huge sub-glacial lake caused by geothermal / fault induced heat flow in East Antarctic (see here).
- Research confirming that melting of selected West Antarctic Glaciers is from natural and non-human induced heat (see here).
- Antarctica Ice Core information clearly shows that huge sub- polar ice cap West Antarctic volcanic eruptions have occurred on a regular basis, for instance, 44,000 and one 22,000 years ago. These monstrous eruptions broke through the ancient ice and spewed huge amounts of chemically charged ash onto the ancient ice sheets and into surrounding ancient oceans (see here).
In summary, most scientists agree that life on earth originated billions of years ago in the deep dark recesses of our oceans where hydrothermal vents provided just the right mixture of heat, chemicals, metals such as mercury and nutrient rich seawater. This general knowledge and information from numerous reliable research studies indicate that the presence of mercury or methyl mercury is not in of itself proof that humans have interfered with ecosystems. When considering the historical and present day geological setting of Antarctica it becomes clear that the presence of rare metals in glacial ice of this region is most likely of natural origin, specifically natural geological forces.
Involvement of manmade global warming / climate change has been greatly overstated.
James Edward Kamis is a Geologist and AAPG member of 42 years with a B.S. and M.S. in geology who has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. More than 11 years of research / observation have convinced him that the Earth’s Heat Flow Engine, which drives the outer crustal plates, is also an important driver of the Earth’s climate. The Plate Climatology Theory (plateclimatology.com) was recently presented at the annual 2016 American Metrological Society Conference in New Orleans, LA. (see here)
http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a6788/enormous-underwater-volcanoes-discovered-near-antarctica/ Deep ocean volcanoes north of Antarctica)
http://www.janethull.com/newsletter/0712/mercury_from_volcanoes.php Worldwide mercury from volcanoes on land and in ocean
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969700005581 Mercury from Europe Volcanoes
http://noc.ac.uk/science-technology/earth-ocean-system/seafloor/hydrothermal-vents Antarctica Hydrothermal Vents
http://phys.org/news/2010-03-scientists-apparent-hydrothermal-vents-antarctica.html#nRlv Antarctica Hydrothermal Vents
http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/volcanocarb.htm volcanoes end ice age in Ordovician
http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v320/p253-258/ Methyl mercury in Mid-Atlantic Rift Vent Regions
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080629081932.htm Volcanic Mercury
http://phys.org/news/2013-02-shimmering-reveals-cold-volcanic-vent.html Antarctic Cold Vents