Quirks & Quarks

In Florida, the thunderstorms rain down mercury

​Mercury has turned up in dangerous quantities in places like the Florida Everglades.
Lightning strikes the ground as a violent thunder storm approaches the area August 16, 2004 in Ft. Myers, Florida. (Getty Images)

It is estimated that several thousand tons of mercury are released into the atmosphere every year, from both natural and man-made sources.  

A new study by Dr. Christopher Holmes from the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Florida State University, has found that a lot of that harmful mercury is finding its way back down to earth and into various ecosystems by way of thunderstorms.  

This Florida thunderstorm will spread more mercury pollution than a regular storm. (Everglades National Park )

The researchers found that rain gathered from thunderstorms has 50% higher concentrations of mercury than rain from regular storms. The reason is that thunderstorm clouds are about 15 kilometres thick, compared to only a few kilometres thick for regular storm clouds.  

The scientists will now try to understand why there is more mercury at higher altitudes, and how it can affect people and wildlife, particularly in areas with higher instances of thunderstorms such as the Southeast United States.

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