First Portuguese scientific expedition to Greenland to study toxic mercury in permafrost

The campaign will be conducted by researchers from the College of Polar Sciences and Extreme Environments at the Instituto Superior Técnico.

Three researchers from IST’s Department of Polar Science and Extreme Environments (Polar2E) are heading to Greenland as part of the first Portuguese scientific expedition to the world’s largest island.
As 2nd Professor John Canary in the Department of Chemical Engineering and researchers in the Center for Structural Chemistry (CQE) at IST, the research team will study “the dynamics of organic matter and mercury in a persistent and continuous zone of North Greenland”.
The thawing of the Arctic “permafrost” (permafrost) regions that have trapped mercury for thousands of years has released the heavy metal into the atmosphere and water, researchers say.
Dr. João Canario Beatriz Martins in Environmental Engineering studies mercury content and Diogo Ferreira has a PhD in Chemistry with a focus on organic matter.
The researchers will conduct their research at the Zackenberg Science Station (74ºN), managed by Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring and based at Aarhus University, Denmark. This is the first Portuguese scientific expedition to Greenland and “one of the first to study these issues in the region,” said the current chairman of the International Arctic Science Commission’s Onshore Working Group. says João Canário.
In 2019, Joan Canario directed his doctoral dissertation and found that lakes in the region contained high concentrations of methylmercury, the most toxic mercury with toxic effects on animals and humans. Did.
However, there are still many unknowns, such as which bacteria convert mercury into neurotoxins (damaging the nervous system) and the biochemical processes involved in this conversion.
Three years later, a team of Portuguese and Canadian scientists led by a Portuguese explorer discovered “sporadic areas” of “permafrost” in the Sasapimakuwananisiku River Valley in the subarctic (lower Arctic) region of Nunavik, Canada. conducted the first expedition to study Quebec.
As a result of global warming, the permafrost surface has melted, creating lakes that are veritable ‘soups’ of bacteria and heavy metals such as mercury that accumulate in water and sediments. Previous research has shown that bacteria convert inorganic mercury to “more toxic” organic mercury, which becomes volatile and is released into the atmosphere.
According to João Canário, the impact of melting ice from global warming could be as troubling as the runoff of water from Arctic lakes into streams, rivers and oceans.

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