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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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  • Avgas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nerrd (1094283) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:05PM (#46363899)
    Nearly the entire worldwide fleet of piston powered aircraft still burn leaded gas.
    • The EPA is expected to start the phase-out of leaded AVGAS as soon as next year.

    • by Ken_g6 (775014)

      Is it really leaded gas, or just gas with a lead substitute? [wikipedia.org]

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      That's true but the amount of leaded gas burned by piston powered aircraft it pretty minimal. Old lead paint on walls is a far bigger problem.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Like asbestos, lead paint is a bigger problem when you are trying to fix it, than when you just ignore it. Unless you have children eating paint chips, lead paint has no link to health problems that I've ever seen. Just keep the paint on the walls, and its safer than trying to clean it off.
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Nothing lasts forever and sooner or later it needs to be cleaned up.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Unless it'd demolished. Tearing down a house and putting it all in the dump doesn't cause any issue over either asbestos or lead. After all, you indicate that it can't last forever.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      That is a very tiny amount compared to what autos produced.

    • by hax4bux (209237)

      So what? Look up, what do you see? Empty sky. Look down, what do you see? Cars.

      The scale is not even close.

  • Lead! The Romans used the stuff for pipes, and so did we in the fifties. We use graphite in pencils now, so we don't use it there. Where do we use lead these days? Nuclear containment and superman films? (And probably illegal Manhattan plumbing repairs, where legacy systems would be impractical to replace)

    • Re:Romans (Score:5, Informative)

      by Alsn (911813) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:12PM (#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".
      • 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".

        Actually the paint that was used on pencils contained lead in the past. Considering how many kids chewed on pencils in grade school, this wasn't the best idea.

      • I find it hard to believe that anyone could confuse graphite for anything reassembling a metal.

        • by pspahn (1175617)
          Do you? [google.com]

          I'm not sure about the reassembling part. I don't think it is capable of that without maybe some extreme heat and pressure or something.

          • by rwise2112 (648849)

            Do you? [google.com]

            I'm not sure about the reassembling part. I don't think it is capable of that without maybe some extreme heat and pressure or something.

            Good point. And actually comparing it to lead ore [google.ca] shows it's not that different.

    • The only common and modern lead items I that I can think of are fishing sinkers, car batteries and tire balancing weights. I've seen electronic devices with lead to give weight.

      • Until the recent explosion of LCD, TV screens contain a lot of lead. (CRT)
        Now they're worthless, people are throwing them away.

      • Boat keels are usually made of lead. In order to counter the weight above CG, massive amounts of weight are added to the keel as low as possible. Sailboats use more lead per foot than powerboats but powerboats and vessels such as barges are absolutely massive. Boats are basically massive Weeble Wobbles. http://www.ebay.com/bhp/weeble-wobbles/ [ebay.com]

        Being at the lowest part of the vessel and constantly in the water, keels are prone to blistering, leaching, and sometimes they just fall off. All this is just
        • Not sure if you have been eating the bottom paint or what, but lead keels do NOT blister or leach AT ALL. That is one reason we like them, as opposed to crappy iron keels that rust and spall all the paint off. My boat is 40 years old and I have had exactly zero problems with my 5,000 pound lead keel in all that time. Also note that lead ballasted powerboats are very rare and lead ballasted barges do not exist.
      • by rwise2112 (648849)
        Don't forget about ammunition.
    • We still use lead in some electrical solder, although it is rather discouraged today. Most old electronics, therefor, contain led in their circuitry and thus have a chance of releasing it when they are disposed of. Some vehicle's windshields have lead embedded into the glass. Exercise equipment can sometimes contain lead weights.

      It pops up all over the place. It's not quite as harmful, though, if you aren't burning it.

      • by Reziac (43301) *

        Try TIX solder for electronics. Not sure how much lead is in it (it's partly silver and iridium) but it's easier to manipulate, melts at a lower temp, and becomes very hard but not brittle. (I used to work for the outfit that made it.)

    • by QilessQi (2044624)

      It's doubtful that the Romans introduced much lead into the water. from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~... [uchicago.edu]:

      ...rain water is slightly acidic, having dissolved carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to form a weak solution of carbonic acid, which in turn reacts with calcium hydroxide to form calcium carbonate. which .Rome is situated on sedimentary calcareous soil, and the frequent cleaning of limestone encrustation (which accumulated approximately one millimeter per year) suggests that deposits of calcium carbona

    • The Romans used lead to flavor food. But they ended up collapsing. We can understand that now. Lead in gasoline explains the crime wave of the seventies. http://www.motherjones.com/env... [motherjones.com]
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:18PM (#46364009) Homepage Journal

    Slusho [slusho.jp] - You Can't Drink Just Six!

    What's the worst that could happen?

    <_< [rogerebert.com]

  • Bullets (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903)

    Looking at TFA maps, the highest concentration appears to be in the outflow from the Mediterranean. That's probably a result of all the wars fought over there.

  • by retroworks (652802) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:55PM (#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 AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Don't believe the hype. EU and Japanese companies have managed to source alternatives to leaded solder without dredging coral reef islands. As far as I can tell it's just unscrupulous people making money out of the situation and some propaganda from opponents of RoHS, and hardly common practice for supplying lead free solder to the billions of products that use it every year.

      • Businessweek - A third of all tin comes from Bangka. http://www.businessweek.com/ar... [businessweek.com] Bangka tin mines were opened to supply deleaded solder. The point is that the environmental cost of extraction is nearly always more significant than the environmental cost of exposure. Environmental laws that consider only the "end of pipe" without considering lifecycle costs are to environmentalism what mercury laxative was to medicine (very effective if all you care about is an excellent crapping experience)

        80% of

    • 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.

      I didn't understand the seemingly poor cost-benefit trade-off either, until I realized it was the European Union that pushed for this. In Europe, they incinerate a much larger portion of their trash than we do -- thus, the lead in the garbage stream was actually a big problem for them.

  • Pretty heat map means nothing without a scale. It shows some outflow of some amount of lead based chemicals (paint, tetra ethyl lead, metallic lead, whatever); but, without a scale there is no indication of the amounts. It might be parts per trillion, DAQ counts above measurable background derived from spectral analysis using a crappy camera, % change in mass relative to a neutron star, anything really.
    • They clearly state how much lead is shown: "The lead concentrations are roughly equivalent to what you’d get if you dissolved a small spoonful of frozen orange juice in 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools, Noble estimates" Of course, they never identify how much lead is in frozen orange juice, so I take my statement back.
    • by Tailhook (98486)

      anything really

      That's why they put words next to the pictures.

      The lead concentrations are roughly equivalent to what you’d get if you dissolved a small spoonful of frozen orange juice in 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools

      The "small spoonful of frozen orange juice" is too ambiguous to use directly, so I'll just fill a teaspoon with solid lead. Given 5.014×10^34 atoms of water in 200x 2.5E6 L Olympic pools (Wikipedia) and 1.62E23 atoms of lead in a teaspoon, you have 3 atoms of lead per trillion molecules of water.

      Sure to panic homeopaths everywhere. The EPA actionable drinking water limit for lead is 15 parts per billion; three orders of magnitude higher.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      Here's a random cross section [egeotraces.org] from the site linked to in TFA. Lead concentrations average about 25-30 pmol/kg. Which if I've done my math right (1 kg of water = about 55 moles of H2O) is about 0.5 parts per trillion.
      • You're missing the point. I could have gone and gotten the journal article or gone to the Geotraces site myself as well. In fact, you'll notice one of my options was PPT. Science is doing a disservice by publishing graphs with no scale for reference and of all people, they should know better. You're not supposed to do that, ever. There was an article in a different publication not two days ago showing the trace cesium in the ocean currents that could be attributed to Fukushima. It was done in all scary
  • And they know for sure it's because of the burning of leaded fuel and not a natural cause? This is just speculation that it's from polution, it might be true, but it also might not.. no real evidence to prove it..
    • by Reziac (43301) *

      I had the same question -- how much is natural leeching? have any of these traces been tracked back to sources?

      I'd think lead from bullets (if any) would drain more northward, given where most of the shootin' wars were fought.

      Where I used to live, the ground was more-than-average radioactive. Blame got pointed at the air force base, but... no. Truth is, the area is lousy with uranium deposits.

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