The biogeochemical cycling of elemental mercury: Anthropogenic influences

R. P. Mason, W. F. Fitzgerald, Francois M. M. Morel

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A review of the available information on global Hg cycling shows that the atmosphere and surface ocean are in rapid equilibrium; the evasion of Hg0 from the oceans is balanced by the total oceanic deposition of Hg(II) from the atmosphere. The mechanisms whereby reactive Hg species are reduced to volatile Hg0 in the oceans are poorly known, but reduction appears to be chiefly biological. The rapid equilibrium of the surface oceans and the atmosphere, coupled with the small Hg sedimentation in the oceans makes deposition on land the dominant sink for atmospheric Hg. About half of the anthropogenic emissions appear to enter the global atmospheric cycle while the other half is deposited locally, presumably due to the presence of reactive Hg in flue gases. We estimate that over the last century anthropogenic emissions have tripled the concentrations of Hg in the atmosphere and in the surface ocean. Thus, two-thirds of the present Hg fluxes (such are deposition on land and on the ocean) are directly or indirectly of anthropogenic origin. Elimination of the anthropogenic load in the ocean and atmosphere would take fifteen to twenty years after termination of all anthropogenic emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3191-3198
Number of pages8
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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