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Rising Problem: Mercury In the Ecosystem. Jason Drebber , William Van Herwarde , Jack Arthur Woodstock Union High School.

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Rising Problem: Mercury In the Ecosystem

Jason Drebber, William Van Herwarde, Jack Arthur

Woodstock Union High School


The study of mercury emissions is very important because too much methylmercurycan become incredibly dangerous to the Earth and everything on it. It is vital that people all over the world decrease their mercury emissions to help save the planet. Mercury is the only common metal that is liquid at ordinary temperatures. It is a silvery - white liquid metal that is a poor conductor of heat compared to other metals (Lenntech). Mercury gets released into the atmosphere/environment when minerals in rocks and in soils arebroken down through exposure to wind and water. The majority of mercury emissions from humans comes from the burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal (Lenntech). Today, there are 169 coal burning power plants in the U.S., and only 21 of them are trying to create cleaner energy by changing to an alternate form of energy. around 90% of these power plants were built anywhere from 50-70 years ago just before the Clean Air Act (Sourcewatch). We took data on the amount of mercury in dragonfly nymphs in different areas of the U.S. over a certain amount of years, and by studying this data, we can see how mercury concentrationsare changing every year. With this information we can better understand what we need to do as a country or as a world to keep mercury levels to a safe amount. Every year, there are roughly 5,000-8,000 metric tons of mercury being emitted, and Asia is the main contributor. The U.S. used to give off roughly 250 metric tons of mercury emissions per year, but since 1990, mercury emissions have decreased to around 103 metric tons per year (EPA). Unfortunately, there are wind patterns connecting Asia and North America, which means that the mercury emissions from the coal-fired power plants in China are blown from Asia Into America where it is deposited into our water systems and contaminates our ecosystems. This wind pattern is called the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, or the “Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch (NOAA).



The purpose of our experiment was to see how much the mercury levels are differing from year to year. Our hypothesis stated if we test mercury levels in dragonfly nymphs in Vermont and Tennessee, then each year the amount will increase because mercury emissions worldwide are increasing each year. The graph of our data showed that our hypothesis was partially supported. The data from Vermont fluctuates from year to year in both the medians, the means, and the ranges of the data sets. The means of Vermont are these: in 2010 -104.8182 ppm, 2011-111.965 ppm, 2013-109.98 ppm But in Tennessee, the medians and means clearly show that the mercury is increasing from year to year. The mean of amount of mercury in dragonfly nymphs in 2011 in Tennessee is 125.05 ppm, then in 2012 the mean is 148.6143 ppm. The possible reason why Tennessee is higher in amounts and the levels are rising is because Tennessee is more west in the US, and this means it is closer to Asia than Vermont is. Possible sources of error in our experiment was we did not have very much data from around the US or the world. The data from places we wanted to use did not have different years or did not have enough data from the years to be conclusive. As well as more years of data we would have liked to have data from more places in the U.S. and in the world. Testing other macroinvertebrateswould have also made the data more conclusive. The more data the better. Overall what we can take from our experiment is that mercury levels are not going down and may even be going up as you travel west in the US because the west is closer to Asia where most of the mercury we have is from. This means if we want to diminish mercury problems within the Earth or even the US, it needs to be an international effort not just one nation.

Range of Data in Vermont and Tennessee

  • This graph shows the range of the data collected in each place.
  • In Vermont the median amount of Mercury stays almost the same.
  • In Tennessee the median rising greatly over a one year time span.

Materials and methods

There was a lot of work that went into getting the data, but before we could start we had to learn about what we were going to do. The first thing we did was listened to the scientist from Dartmouth that was going to get the data. She talked about the amount of mercury emissions from all over the world and what that meant for us. She taught us how to collect the dragonfly nymphs. The last thing she did was teach us how to not contaminate the data (dragonflies).  A few weeks later we went to The Pogue in the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park. After about a half hour of walking around in the water with a D-net we picked one nymph. Half of the groups picked a skimmer and half a darner nymph, these are two different species. Each is distinguishable by them either having a pointed or rounded body. To make sure none of the nymphs were contaminated we used a special method to collect them. One person was dirty hands and one was clean hands (clean hands wears gloves), only dirty hands could pick up the spoon to get the nymph while only clean hands could touch the bag containing the nymph. Once dirty hands had the specimen, clean hands got a small plastic Ziploc bag and the nymph was put in it, with as little water as possible. The next step wasfor dirty hands to pick up a bigger gallon sized plastic Ziploc and clean hands put the smaller bag into the larger bag. Then we sent the specimens to Dartmouth where they processed them for us and sent the results back. After we got the results back we used them along with other sets of data from past years and put them into a table so that we could have a graph that would make the information easier to understand.

Literature cited

"What Is a Gyre?" National Ocean Service, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

< accumulates>.

"Existing U.S. Coal Plants." - SourceWatch. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.


"Mercury Emissions: The Global Context." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 05 Dec.

2013. <>.

"Mercury - Hg." Mercury (Hg). Lenntech B.V., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.


  • This graph shows the average of all of the data.
  • They are similar to the medians of the data.
  • Year to year Vermont does not go up but overall it does rise slightly.
  • In Tennessee the data does go up yearly and rises about 20 points.


We would like to thank Dartmouth Collegeand The University of Maine for processing the data, the students of Tennessee, and the National Park Service who allowed us to use the parks to collect data. Without all of them this poster would not be possible.

As well as pumping Mercury into the air, coming from the same places is Carbon Dioxide which is the number one cause of Climate Change.