School of forestry and environmental studies

School Notes: School of the Environment
November/December 2021

Ingrid C. “Indy” Burke | http://environment.yale.edu

Rivers are largest source of mercury in oceans

The presence of mercury in the world’s oceans has ramifications for human health and wildlife. Traditional models evaluating sources of mercury in the oceans have focused on mercury deposited directly from the atmosphere, but a new study led by Peter Raymond, professor of ecosystem ecology at YSE, finds that rivers are the main source of the toxic heavy metal along the world’s coasts. Raymond says the source of mercury in rivers often comes from atmospheric mercury that has ended up in soils—but mining, soil displacement from storms and floods, and naturally occurring geologic sources are also to blame. “It kind of rewires the global mercury cycle,” Raymond says.

Efficient buildings could save thousands of lives

By improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings, the emissions generated from heating and cooling them could be reduced—preventing thousands of premature deaths from heart and lung disease every year. A new paper, authored by YSE economics professor Kenneth Gillingham and colleagues at Yale’s SEARCH Center and the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science, lays out two building efficiency improvement scenarios: one that envisions a 50 percent increase in efficiency of household appliances and one that envisions a 60 to 90 percent increase in the efficiency of buildings’ outer shells. The researchers estimate that up to 5,100 premature deaths would be prevented yearly if those conditions were met; even if those goals were partially met, the researchers say, an estimated 2,900 lives could be saved each year.

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