Naval Arctic Research Laboratory
Mercury in the environs of the north slope of AlaskaThe analysis of Greenland ice suggests that the flux of mercury from the continents to the atmosphere has increased in recent times, perhaps partly as a result of the many of man’s activities that effect an alteration of terrestrial surfaces. Upon the exposure of fresh crustal matter, the natural outgassing of mercury vapor from the earth’s surface could be enhanced. Accordingly, mercury was measured in a variety of environmental materials gathered from the North Slope of Alaska to provide background data prior to the anticipated increase of activity in this environment. The materials were collected during the U. S. Coast Guard WEBSEC 72-73 cruises as well as through the facilities provided by Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in the spring of 1973. The method of measurement depended upon radioactivation of mercury with neutrons and the subsequent quantification of characteristic gamma radiations after radiochemical purification. Mercury concentrations in seawater at several locations in the vicinity of 151°W, 71°N averaged 20 parts per trillion. The waters from all stations east of this location showed a significantly smaller concentration. This difference may relate to penetration o f Bering- Chukchi Sea water into the southern Beaufort Sea to 151°W. Marine sediments on the shelf and slope between 143°W and 153°W contained about 100 parts per billion mercury, except for those on the continental shelf between Barter Island and the Canning River, where the concentration was less than half this value. These results are consistent with sediment input from the respective rivers when their mercury content and mineralogy are considered. The mercury content of river waters was 18 ppt and in reasonable agreement with the average of snow samples (13 ppt). The burden of mercury in plankton was 37 ppb.