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July Slugs and Steins: Mercury in coastal fog-evidence for bioaccumulation in food webs with Peter Weiss-Penzias
Mercury is a naturally occurring element released to the atmosphere by human activities - approximately 4000 metric tons each year resulting from coal combustion, gold mining, and other industrial processes. Coastal fog, like the kind we have in California, acts as a sponge for methylmercury emissions from the ocean, and when this fog moves onshore it can enter the food web on land. My research on mountain lions in the Santa Cruz area showed that they had mercury concentrations that approached toxicological thresholds. Deer, which are the main food source of mountain lions, also contained higher concentrations. Lichen also showed similar enhancements in mercury, which strongly suggested an atmospheric source (i.e. fog) since lichen only absorbs materials from the air. Although fog makes up a small portion of the water inputs to the Central Coast, it may play an outsized role in cycling mercury from the ocean to the land. The question for today: is this mercury also affecting the produce grown along coastal California, and if so, by how much?

Jul 13, 2020 06:30 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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Peter Weiss-Penzias
@UC Santa Cruz
Peter Weiss-Penzias has a PhD from the University of Washington in Chemistry (1995) and has worked as an Associate Researcher in the Department of Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology at UC Santa Cruz since 2009. He is an internationally known researcher of mercury biogeochemistry with over 2500 citations according to his Google Scholar profile. Last year he launched a crowd-funding campaign titled "Mercury is our fog - so what about our food" and raised enough money to fund an undergraduate research scholarship for the collection and testing of foods from local farms in the fog-belt. In 2019 he won the Clean Air Award from the Monterey Bay Air Resources District for his efforts to understand air pollution. Peter also performs original music as the Singing Scientist to educate people about the environment. You can find his music on Spotify and YouTube.