Potent mercury toxin found in Antarctic sea ice

Collecting samples
Scientists collected sea ice samples which were analysed for different forms of mercury, including methylmercury, at the US Geological Survey in Wisconsin (USA). (Photo: Caitlin Gionfriddo)
Air samples

Australian researchers have found a potent mercury neurotoxin in Antarctic sea ice for the first time, highlighting the potential for this mercury to enter the food web.

The University of Melbourne study, published today in the journal, Nature Microbiology, stemmed from samples collected on Australia’s icebreaker Aurora Australis as part of the Sea Ice Physics and Ecosystem eXperiment II (SIPEX-II) in 2012.

The researchers looked at the connection between methylmercury and the microbiology of sea ice, with a focus on how the most toxic form, methylmercury, enters the marine environment and seafood consumed by humans.

The SIPEX-II voyage bought together 50 scientists from 9 countries to examine the physics, chemistry and biology of the sea ice zone, to enhance scientists’ capability to detect climate change and assess its impacts on ecosystem function in the ice-covered Southern Ocean.