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TitleArctic mercury cycling
AuthorDastoor, A; Angot, H; Bieser, J; Christensen, J; Douglas, T A; Heimbürger-Boavida, L- E; Jiskra, M; Mason, R; McLagan, D; Obrist, D; Outridge, P MORCID logo; Petrova, M V
SourceNature Reviews Earth & Environment vol. 3, issue 4, 2022 p. 270-286, Open Access logo Open Access
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20220047
PublisherNature Reviews
Mediapaper; digital; on-line
File formatpdf
ProvinceCanada; Canada; British Columbia; Alberta; Saskatchewan; Manitoba; Ontario; Quebec; New Brunswick; Nova Scotia; Prince Edward Island; Newfoundland and Labrador; Northwest Territories; Yukon; Nunavut
NTS1; 2; 3; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 20; 21; 22; 23; 24; 25; 26; 27; 28; 29; 30; 31; 32; 33; 34; 35; 36; 37; 38; 39; 40; 41; 42; 43; 44; 45; 46; 47; 48; 49; 52; 53; 54; 55; 56; 57; 58; 59; 62; 63; 64; 65; 66; 67; 68; 69; 72; 73; 74; 75; 76; 77; 78; 79; 82; 83; 84; 85; 86; 87; 88; 89; 92; 93; 94; 95; 96; 97; 98; 99; 102; 103; 104; 105; 106; 107; 114O; 114P; 115; 116; 117; 120; 340; 560
Lat/Long WENS-180.0000 -1.0000 90.0000 60.0000
Lat/Long WENS-141.0000 -50.0000 90.0000 41.7500
Subjectsenvironmental geology; geochemistry; Nature and Environment; climate, arctic; mercury; permafrost; permafrost geochemistry; mercury geochemistry
Illustrationsschematic diagrams; location maps; photographs; tables
ProgramEnvironmental Geoscience Program Management
Released2022 03 22
AbstractAnthropogenic mercury (Hg) emissions have driven marked increases in Arctic Hg levels, which are now being impacted by regional warming, with uncertain ecological consequences. This Review presents a comprehensive assessment of the present-day total Hg mass balance in the Arctic. Over 98% of atmospheric Hg is emitted outside the region and is transported to the Arctic via long-range air and ocean transport. Around two thirds of this Hg is deposited in terrestrial ecosystems, where it predominantly accumulates in soils via vegetation uptake. Rivers and coastal erosion transfer about 80 Mg year-1 of terrestrial Hg to the Arctic Ocean, in approximate balance with modelled net terrestrial Hg deposition in the region. The revised Arctic Ocean Hg mass balance suggests net atmospheric Hg deposition to the ocean and that Hg burial in inner-shelf sediments is underestimated (up to >100%), needing seasonal observations of sediment-ocean Hg exchange. Terrestrial Hg mobilization pathways from soils and the cryosphere (permafrost, ice, snow and glaciers) remain uncertain. Improved soil, snowpack and glacial Hg inventories, transfer mechanisms of riverine Hg releases under accelerated glacier and soil thaw, coupled atmosphere-terrestrial modelling and monitoring of Hg in sensitive ecosystems such as fjords can help to anticipate impacts on downstream Arctic ecosystems.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
A new report has found levels of mercury imported north of 60 are higher than previously thought.

According to the report, titled "Arctic mercury cycling", over 98 percent of the mercury found in the Arctic originates from outside the region mostly by present and historic human-generated sources. It is carried to the Arctic primarily through the air and ocean currents. The mercury accumulates in key northern foods such as fish, marine mammals and seabirds. This means that Arctic peoples who harvest and consume these animals in their traditional diets risk some of the highest levels of exposure to mercury worldwide.

Scientists from most of the Arctic states, including Canadian scientists from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada, analyzed data from a series of scientific papers and conducted modeling to provide a comprehensive picture of where Arctic mercury comes from, how it moves through Arctic ecosystems, where it accumulates, and how climate warming affects the mercury contamination.

Mercury is a chemical element that is toxic to animals and humans. High mercury levels in the Arctic are a result of combination of factors, including current levels of global emissions from human activity, natural emissions of mercury, and how past emissions have been stored, reemitted and recycled through the environment. In the Arctic ecosystems increasing levels of mercury in glacier ice, sea ice, permafrost soils and boreal peatlands have accumulated and are now up to 10 times higher than pre-industrial levels. As the climate warms, higher land temperatures, more plant growth, intensified wildfires, peatland thaw, glaciers melt, sea ice melt and increased river discharges, result in mercury accumulated over thousands of years being released more quickly into the atmosphere, rivers, and the Arctic Ocean.

A warming climate not only releases more mercury, but accelerates the entry of human-generated mercury into food chains and water. Human-related mercury is emitted mainly by small-scale gold mining, coal-fired power plants, non-ferrous metal smelters, and cement production.

"Arctic mercury cycling" provides a large-scale picture of the current state of mercury in the Arctic environment; where it is located and how much is present. It was published in the April 2022 issue of the journal "Nature Reviews - Earth and Environment" within the prestigious "Nature" group of journals. It was prepared for the Arctic Council, a body of eight Arctic member states that manages the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), who's mandate is to monitor and assess the status of the Arctic region with respect to pollution and climate change issues and propose actions to reduce associated threats for consideration by governments.

The long-term goal is to reduce the amount of mercury emissions and support the implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global agreement that came into force in 2017, to reduce the risks posed by mercury to human health and the environment, particularly in the Arctic regions.

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