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Insights from mercury stable isotopes on terrestrial–atmosphere exchange of Hg(0) in the Arctic tundra

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Jiskra Martin, Sonke Jeroen E., Agnan Yannick, Helmig Detlev, Obrist Daniel,
Project Seasonal impact of vegetation on atmospheric elemental mercury dry deposition
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Biogeosciences
Volume (Issue) 16(20)
Page(s) 4051 - 4064
Title of proceedings Biogeosciences
DOI 10.5194/bg-16-4051-2019

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. The tundra plays a pivotal role in the Arctic mercury (Hg) cycle by storing atmospheric Hg deposition and shuttling it to the Arctic Ocean. A recent study revealed that 70 % of the atmospheric Hg deposition to the tundra occurs through gaseous elemental mercury (GEM or Hg(0)) uptake by vegetation and soils. Processes controlling land–atmosphere exchange of Hg(0) in the Arctic tundra are central, but remain understudied. Here, we combine Hg stable isotope analysis of Hg(0) in the atmosphere, interstitial snow air, and soil pore air, with Hg(0) flux measurements in a tundra ecosystem at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska (USA). In the dark winter months, planetary boundary layer (PBL) conditions and Hg(0) concentrations were generally stable throughout the day and small Hg(0) net deposition occurred. In spring, halogen-induced atmospheric mercury depletion events (AMDEs) occurred, with the fast re-emission of Hg(0) after AMDEs resulting in net emission fluxes of Hg(0). During the short snow-free growing season in summer, vegetation uptake of atmospheric Hg(0) enhanced atmospheric Hg(0) net deposition to the Arctic tundra. At night, when PBL conditions were stable, ecosystem uptake of atmospheric Hg(0) led to a depletion of atmospheric Hg(0). The night-time decline of atmospheric Hg(0) was concomitant with a depletion of lighter Hg(0) isotopes in the atmospheric Hg pool. The enrichment factor, ε202Hgvegetationuptake=-4.2 ‰ (±1.0 ‰) was consistent with the preferential uptake of light Hg(0) isotopes by vegetation. Hg(0) flux measurements indicated a partial re-emission of Hg(0) during daytime, when solar radiation was strongest. Hg(0) concentrations in soil pore air were depleted relative to atmospheric Hg(0) concentrations, concomitant with an enrichment of lighter Hg(0) isotopes in the soil pore air, ε202Hgsoilair-atmosphere=-1.00 ‰ (±0.25 ‰) and E199Hgsoilair-atmosphere=0.07 ‰ (±0.04 ‰). These first Hg stable isotope measurements of Hg(0) in soil pore air are consistent with the fractionation previously observed during Hg(0) oxidation by natural humic acids, suggesting abiotic oxidation as a cause for observed soil Hg(0) uptake. The combination of Hg stable isotope fingerprints with Hg(0) flux measurements and PBL stability assessment confirmed a dominant role of Hg(0) uptake by vegetation in the terrestrial–atmosphere exchange of Hg(0) in the Arctic tundra.