A review of worldwide atmospheric mercury measurements


A large number of activities have been carried out to characterise the levels of mercury (Hg) species in ambient air and precipitation, in order to understand how they vary over time and how they depend on meteorological conditions. Following the discovery of atmospheric Hg depletion events (AMDEs) in Polar Regions, a significant research effort was made to assess the chemical-physical mechanisms behind the rapid conversion of atmospheric gaseous Hg (Hg0) into reactive and water-soluble forms which are potentially bioavailable. The understanding of the way in which Hg is released into the atmosphere, transformed, deposited and eventually incorporated into biota is of crucial importance not only for the polar regions but also for the marine environment in general. The oceans and seas are both sources and sinks of Hg and play a major role in the Hg cycle. In this work, the available Hg concentration datasets from a number of terrestrial sites (industrial, rural and remote) in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as well as over oceans and seas have been investigated. The higher Hg species concentration and variability observed in the Northern Hemisphere suggest that the majority of emissions and re-emissions occur there. The inter-hemispherical gradient with higher total gaseous mercury (TGM) concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere has remained nearly constant over the years for which data are available. The analysis of Hg concentration patterns indicates the differences in regional source/sink characteristics, with increasing variability toward areas strongly influenced by anthropogenic sources. The large increase in Hg emissions in rapidly developing countries (i.e., China, India) over the last decade, due primarily to a sharp increase in energy production from coal combustion, are not currently reflected in the long-term measurements of TGM in ambient air and precipitation at continuous monitoring sites in either Northern Europe or North America. The discrepancy between observed gaseous Hg concentrations (steady or decreasing) and global Hg emission inventories (increasing) has not yet been explained, though the potential oxidation of the atmosphere during the last decade is increasing. Currently, however, a coordinated observational network for Hg does not exist.
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