Soil-mercury findings startle Amazon researchers


Gold mining has devastated portions of the Peruvian Amazon. (Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay)

Beneath old-growth Amazonian forests in Peru’s southeastern Madre de Dios region lies a toxic secret. Airborne mercury from illegal gold mining operations settles on leaves that later fall to the ground and decay, resulting in soil mercury levels that are among the highest registered in the world, a new study has found. The results startled even the scientist who led the research, published Jan. 28 in Nature Communications. “What really surprised me was how extreme the patterns were,” says Jacqueline Gerson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who conducted the study while a PhD student at Duke University. Mercury levels in the soil of one protected area were “comparable to industrial mercury mining areas—and this is a remote forest.” For Peruvian tropical ecologist Enrique Ortiz, senior program director for the Andes Amazon Fund, the study is “both interesting and terrifying.” Says Ortiz: “Even the most... [Log in to read more]

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