Modern and historic atmospheric mercury fluxes in both hemispheres: Global and regional mercury cycling implications

C. H. Lamborg, W. F. Fitzgerald, A. W.H. Damman, J. M. Benoit, P. H. Balcom, D. R. Engstrom

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181 Scopus citations


Using two different natural archiving media from remote locations, we have reconstructed the atmospheric deposition of mercury (Hg) over the last 800-1000 years in both hemispheres. This effort was designed (1) to quantify the historical variation and distributional patterns of atmospheric Hg fluxes in the midlatitudes of North America at Nova Scotia (N.S.) and at a comparable midlatitude region in the Southern Hemisphere at New Zealand (N.S.), (2) to identify and quantify the influence of anthropogenic and natural Hg contributions to atmospheric Hg fluxes, (3) to further investigate the suitability and comparability of our two selected media (lake sediments and ombrotrophic peat) for Hg depositional reconstructions, and (4) to assess the relative importance of wet and dry deposition to the study areas. Significant findings from the study include the following: (1) The lake sediments examined appear to faithfully record the contemporary flux of Hg from the atmosphere (e.g., 1997: N.S. Lakes: approximately 8 ± 3 μg m-2 yr-1; N.S. Rain: 8 μg m-2 yr-1). The upper 10 cm (approximately 10 yr) of ombrotrophic peat cores from Nova Scotia were dated using a biological chronometer (Polytrichum) and were also consistent with the flux data provided by current direct sampling of precipitation. These observations place limits on the contribution of dry deposition (40 ± 50% of wet flux). Unfortunately, the peat samples could not be dated below 10 cm. This was due to the apparent diagenetic mobility of the geochronological tracer (210Pb). (2) There is no evidence of a significant enhancement in the atmospheric Hg flux as a result of preindustrial (<1900 c.e. (Common Era)) activities such as the extensive Au and Ag mining in the Americas. (3) A factor of 3 and 5x increase in the deposition of Hg to the lake sediment archives was observed since the advent of the industrial revolution in New Zealand and Nova Scotia respectively, suggesting a worldwide increase in the atmospheric deposition of Hg. Furthermore, this increase is synchronous with increase in the release of CO2 from combustion of fossil fuels on a global scale. The magnitude of increase since industrialization appears larger in Nova Scotia than in New Zealand. This may be due to enhanced deposition of Hg as a result of either regional emission of Hg or enhanced regional oxidation of Hg°.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51
Number of pages1
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Lake sediments
  • Mining
  • New Zealand
  • Nova Scotia
  • Ombrotrophic peat


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