Here in Canada, we talk about the weather 229% more than any other country (Influence Communications, 2014)!

Recently, we’ve been complaining about hotter summers and colder winters – and climate change seems to be to blame – and it’s especially affecting areas in northern regions because of the mass melting of permafrost.

Permafrost is ground that is solid or rock and included ice or organic materials that remains at or below 0°C for at least 2 years in a row. It is normally found in polar regions. Permafrost also contains mercury.

Rapidly melting permafrost is setting mercury free into the atmosphere.

Once melted, permafrost uncovers numerous water bodies, called “thaw ponds” that are made up of rich carbon peat, a brown deposit resembling soil that is acidic.

With warmer temperatures and shifting ground, these thaw ponds are growing in numbers – and they contain available mercury.

Although mercury naturally exists in our environment, we should be concerned about its transformation into its most deadly form, methylmercury. Methylmercury is highly toxic and is the main culprit of mercury poisoning.

Trent University student, Sancha Reynolds is completing her Master’s in Environmental and Life Sciences and her research focuses on understanding the impact of thaw ponds found near the Hudson Bay.

She is studying the chemistry of the ponds, particularly their mercury levels.

Sancha also wants to determine how quickly mercury is changing into methylmercury in their sediments that lie above the melting permafrost.

Sancha has found that thaw ponds are highly distinct from each other, like siblings raised under similar conditions but with different personalities. This makes it difficult to predict the impact that available and mobile mercury will have on a large scale.

Sancha has found that the conditions within the pond sediments near the Hudson Bay seem to prefer a process that does not change mercury into methylmercury.

However, since mercury continues to change into methylmercury in some areas, then over time as permafrost ice continues to melt, the chances of toxic methylmercury levels are likely to increase.

This can be harmful to aquatic life and contaminate drinking water in northern regions leading to lasting environmental effects for years to come.

Thank you Sancha for this important research and educating people about the effects of a warming climate.

Here is what she has to say about her time at Trent University:

“I came to Trent University to pursue my BSc. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (Honours, 2014-17). Encouraged by my undergraduate thesis project supervisor and given financial support, I followed my interest in research. My Master’s supervisor is Dr. Holger Hintelmann, and under his leadership and guidance, I have had the opportunity to travel to the subarctic to conduct research and get first-hand experience using advanced analytical instruments. I am tremendously grateful for my university experience at Trent because of the small, engaged community feel that is not overwhelming, the beautiful scenery of the campus which has helped with my nostalgia when I’ve missed my family and thought of my island home St Lucia, the support I’ve received through financial aid amidst rising tuition fees, the professors who have shown me eager willingness and openness to engage with me when I’ve had questions, the admirable balance of personability and professionalism of its staff, the comfortable space created on campus which allows me to think about the way I think, and the numerous opportunities to be active and passionate about interests beyond the lab. The list goes on…”