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Earth Transportation Science

3D Maps Reveal a Lead-Laced Ocean 266

Posted by samzenpus
from the keeping-the-magic-out dept.
sciencehabit writes "About 1000 meters down in a remote part of the Atlantic Ocean sits an unusual legacy of humanity's love affair with the automobile. It's a huge mass of seawater infused with traces of the toxic metal lead, a pollutant once widely emitted by cars burning leaded gasoline. Decades ago, the United States and Europe banned leaded gas and many other uses of the metal, but the pollutant's fingerprint lingers on—as shown by remarkably detailed new 3-D maps released this week. The 3D maps and animations are the early results of an unprecedented $300 million international collaboration to document the presence of trace metals and other chemicals in the world's oceans. The substances, which often occur in minute quantities, can provide important clues to understanding the ocean's past—such as how seawater masses have moved around over centuries—and its future, such as how climate change might shift key biochemical processes."
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3D Maps Reveal a Lead-Laced Ocean

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:10PM (#46363937)

    a pollutant once widely emitted by cars burning leaded gasoline. Decades ago, the United States and Europe banned leaded gas and many other uses of the metal

    Do you really think the US and Europe account for the majority of vehicles? I'm pretty sure places like China and India wouldn't give a shit about using leaded gas and leaded metal still - their environmental standards aren't exactly great compared to Western standards (and despite our own flaws and corruption, we at least still have better environmental standards so no US bashing please).

  • Re:Romans (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alsn (911813) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:12PM (#46363953)
    Pencils never contained lead though. It's a misunderstanding from when graphite was discovered back in the 16th century and people thought it was a type of lead and called it "black lead" or "plumbago".
  • by Algae_94 (2017070) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:50PM (#46364237) Journal

    a pollutant once widely emitted by cars burning leaded gasoline. Decades ago, the United States and Europe banned leaded gas and many other uses of the metal

    Do you really think the US and Europe account for the majority of vehicles?

    Yes I do [who.int]. It's not extremely lop sided, but there are more vehicles in Europe and the US combined than there are in China and India combined. I'd also throw all the cars in Japan under the US/Europe column for not using leaded gas.

  • by retroworks (652802) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:55PM (#46364273) Homepage Journal

    Banning lead gasoline - Best environmental law ever passed. Lower blood lead levels in kids, higher test scores, less crime in cities.

    Banning lead in solder - Worst environmental law ever passed. Lead in solder never escaped in the environment, was at worst destined for a lined landfill. Was replaced by dredging coral reef islands for TIN and SILVER (the alternatives to lead). Tin and Silver have very low recycled content, the lead was 85% recycled content.

    I'm very pro environment, very pro scientific method. The unintentional consequences of the success of lead gasoline bans were stupid tin mining in coral islands to divert solid solder from rich nations lined landfills.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @09:38PM (#46364849) Homepage Journal

    Uh, the article said "lead," not "tetraethyllead" [sic].

    Guess what? That lead came from the earth - humans dug it up. It's not like alchemy is real.

    Are sub-sea geothermal vents spewing lead in some form? Are there exposed veins of lead on the ocean floor? Is it from fishing weights or ballasts of sunken ships?

    If you can't answer all those questions and other similar, your comment is less than worthless.

    Well it's obvious you didn't read it, particularly the bit about a concentration diluting along known currents. Guess those were some big words and you might have had trouble with them.

    Tetraethyllead was added to gasoline as a catalyst. Once the fuel was burned the catalyst exited into the atmosphere (are you keeping up?) where it could land anywhere or go into solution where rain fell, taking it through drains, watersheds, down rivers and into the ocean. Spotting it in the water column is pretty easy. Spotting it in your water and food, well, that's a less heterogeneous environment. But with all the fuel burned with that additive, it's somewhere, it doesn't go POOF and magically disapper (out of sight, out of mind.) Got that?

  • by Solandri (704621) on Friday February 28, 2014 @12:31AM (#46365453)
    While I don't disagree with the notion that leaded gasoline is a major contributor to lead in the environment, I was a little curious how much naturally-occuring lead there is.

    Uranium has a 4.5 billion year half-life, and the end-product of its decay chain is lead. Since the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, you should expect to find about equal amounts of uranium and lead in the environment overall (I'm not an expert on how minute quantities of these elements act in seawater). The trace uranium in seawater is about 3.33 parts per billion [ieee.org].

    According to TFA (which didn't give exact numbers), "the lead concentrations are roughly equivalent to what youâ(TM)d get if you dissolved a small spoonful of frozen orange juice in 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools". An Olympic-sized swimming pool [wikipedia.org] is about 2.5 million liters. According to Google, 1 teaspoon in 2.5 million liters is about 2 parts per billion [google.com].

    So the amounts of lead they're detecting are about 0.01 parts per billion, or two orders of magnitude less than the amount of naturally-ocurring uranium in seawater. The charts linked in TFA bear this out. Clicking through random charts, lead concentrations [egeotraces.org] are around 25 pmol/kg, while uranium concentrations [egeotraces.org] are around 3 nmol/kg (3000 pmol/kg).

    So (1) for whatever reason uranium dissolves in seawater much more readily than lead, and (2) the amounts of lead they're detecting are minuscule even by "trace elements" standards.

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