Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Research explores fire, mercury link

Researchers recently received federal funding to continue a study aimed at exploring high levels of mercury found in fish at Vallecito Reservoir, which a researcher at the University of Colorado thinks might be the result of the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire.

The San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow and the Four Corners Power Plant in Fruitland are believed to be the primary source of atmospherically deposited mercury in La Plata and Montezuma counties.

CU's lead researcher Joseph Ryan thinks that a large wildfire could volatilize latent mercury that stuck to the top layer of soil.

The Missionary Ridge Fire burned more than 70,000 acres north of Durango in June and July 2002. Ryan said a fire of that intensity could have oxidized sulphur molecules that bind mercury in organic matter in the soil.

Ryan said a large wildfire could also introduce mercury into water another way, by speeding erosion and allowing the mercury to wash into a water source.

"Nobody's really looked at this before," Ryan said. "That's probably why the National Science Foundation is funding us."

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