Natural and Anthropogenic Sources of Mercury to the Atmosphere: Global and Regional Contributions

EPA Grant Number: R829796
Title: Natural and Anthropogenic Sources of Mercury to the Atmosphere: Global and Regional Contributions
Investigators: Fitzgerald, William F. , Engstrom, Daniel
Institution: University of Connecticut , Science Museum of Minnesota
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2005
Project Amount: $897,219
RFA: Mercury: Transport, Transportation, and Fate in the Atmosphere (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Mercury , Air Quality and Air Toxics , Safer Chemicals , Air


Knowledge of the behavior and fate of Hg in the atmosphere is increasing. However, assessment of natural and anthropogenic sources is uncertain, the mechanisms by which Hg is removed from the atmosphere are poorly understood, and linkages between inputs of anthropogenic Hg, especially from the atmosphere, and the bioaccumulation MMHg in sensitive aquatic ecosystems has not yet been established. This project will address questions relating to natural and anthropogenic contributions from global and localized sources, the identification of Hg deposition with a regional origin (e.g., U.S.), and the examination of spatial and temporal trends (e.g., increases, declines) in atmospheric Hg deposition for predictive/modeling purposes. This research is focused on current measurement, reconstruction, quantification, and interpretation of the modern and historical variation in atmospheric Hg fluxes associated with the mid and sub-tropical latitudes of North America.


Studies will take place in the lacustrine environs of the Tongass National Forest of southeastern Alaska and Cormack, Newfoundland. This work will be complemented by event-scale Hg and 210Pb depositional investigations at the respective lake study-areas and at several key geographic regions which display a range of variation in Hg deposition as determined from the Mercury Deposition Network (MDN). The specific regions are the West Coast North America, Mid-Continent U.S., East Coast North America, and the southeastern U.S. Our program benefits from the cooperation and assistance of interested colleagues associated with current operations and facilities (National Parks, and the MDN sites). We will address the following hypotheses: 1) Atmospheric mercury deposition in southeastern Alaska can be viewed as an integrated sample of global Hg pollution in the Northern Hemisphere, and therefore represents a component of the Hg deposition experienced by sites closer to local and regional emission sources. 2) Atmospheric mercury deposition in Canada's maritime provinces is elevated above the northern hemispheric average by regional contributions from the industrialized Northeast/Midwest and can be separated into global and regional components by a comparison of sedimentary archives. 3) The linear correlation between Hg and 210Pb found in rainwater from other remote and semi-remote locations is observed in southeastern Alaska, and this behavior can be used to constrain the global-scale wet atmospheric flux of Hg to lakes and watersheds of temperate North America. 4) At less remote sites, enhanced atmospheric Hg deposition that is locally/regionally derived, is indicated by deviations from Hg and 210Pb relationship observed in southeastern Alaska. 5) Sediment archives will show, when corrected for climatology using 210Pb, that the Pacific and Atlantic seaboards of North America received equivalent preindustrial atmospheric Hg fluxes, and provide a baseline for assessing the global component of anthropogenic Hg deposition at any given locality.


We are combining two research strategies. That is, we will use a) archives provided by lake sediment cores and b) collocated Hg and 210Pb deposition collectors to derive precise estimates of the modern and preindustrial Hg flux to eastern and western North America. The major field components are: i) atmospheric Hg deposition and 210Pb determinations at an array of experimental collection stations and ii) careful lake selection, sediment core collection, Hg analysis and geochronologies (210Pb dating).

Expected Results:

This research will yield the high quality biogeochemical data needed for: quantitative assessment of the scale and historical record of potentially enhanced atmospheric Hg deposition related to increased human-related Hg emissions over the past 150 years. This information will be especially useful in improving models of the global and regional biogeochemical and atmospheric cycling of Hg, and assessing the impact associated with atmospherically transported pollutant-derived Hg in the environment.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 13 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 3 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

atmospheric mercury, chemical transport, heavy metals, environmental chemistry, United States, predictive modeling, deposition, quantitative assessment, Scientific Discipline, Air, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, Waste, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, POLLUTANTS/TOXICS, Air Quality, air toxics, Environmental Chemistry, Chemicals, Fate & Transport, Environmental Monitoring, Atmospheric Sciences, Chemistry and Materials Science, fate and transport, air pollutants, mercury, Hg, mercury emissions, modeling, mercury cycling, chemical kinetics, atmospheric mercury chemistry, mercury chemistry, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric deposition, heavy metals, mercury vapor, contaminant transport models, atmospheric mercury cycling

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report