Human influence on the global mercury cycle: understanding the past and projecting the future
1 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
2 Decision and Information Sciences Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois, USA
3 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
4 School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Humans have been releasing mercury (Hg) to the environment since antiquity. Due to the toxicity of Hg, the extent of anthropogenic enrichment is a global health concern. Here we use a global biogeochemical box model to quantify anthropogenic enrichment, investigate the timescales required to remove anthropogenic Hg from actively cycling reservoirs, and explore future anthropogenic emission scenarios and their impact on Hg accumulation. By considering the full history of anthropogenic emissions, we find that the global ocean has been substantially enriched by human activity, with implications for exposures of marine fish. Model simulations show anthropogenic Hg entering surface reservoirs is removed on the order of years. Future emission scenarios that achieve substantial reductions in global anthropogenic Hg emissions have the dual benefit of decreasing atmospheric deposition and decreasing the pool of legacy Hg actively cycling in terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems.
Key words: mercury / biogeochemical box model / anthropogenic enrichment / legacy mercury
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2013
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.