Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Upper atmosphere facilitates changes that let mercury enter food chain

19.12.2011
Humans pump thousands of tons of vapor from the metallic element mercury into the atmosphere each year, and it can remain suspended for long periods before being changed into a form that is easily removed from the atmosphere.

New research shows that the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere work to transform elemental mercury into oxidized mercury, which can easily be deposited into aquatic ecosystems and ultimately enter the food chain.

"The upper atmosphere is acting as a chemical reactor to make the mercury more able to be deposited to ecosystems," said Seth Lyman, who did the work as a research assistant professor in science and technology at the University of Washington Bothell.

Lyman, now with Utah State University's Energy Dynamics Laboratory, is lead author of a paper documenting the research published online Dec. 19 by the journal Nature Geoscience. Daniel Jaffe, a science and technology professor at UW Bothell, is coauthor of the paper. The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The findings come from data gathered during research flights in October and November 2010 over North America and Europe by a National Center for Atmospheric Research aircraft.

The campaign used a device built at UW Bothell that can detect both elemental mercury and oxidized mercury in the same air sample, and the device recorded readings every 2.5 minutes. The flights typically are at altitudes of 19,000 to 23,000 feet, well below the confluence of the troposphere and the stratosphere, but several times during the 2010 flights – particularly on a trip from Bangor, Maine, to Broomfield, Colo. – the aircraft encountered streams of air that had descended from the stratosphere or from near it.

The result was the first time that the two mercury forms were measured together in a way that showed that elemental mercury is transformed into oxidized mercury, Lyman said, and evidence indicated the process occurs in the upper atmosphere.

Exactly how the oxidation takes place is not known with certainty but, once the transformation takes place, the oxidized mercury is quickly removed from the atmosphere, mostly through precipitation or air moving to the surface. After it settles to the surface, the oxidized mercury is transformed by bacteria into methyl mercury, a form that can be taken into the food chain and eventually can result in mercury-contaminated fish.

Some areas, such as the Southwest United States, appear to have specific climate conditions that allow them to receive more oxidized mercury from the upper atmosphere than other areas, Lyman noted.

He added that where the mercury settles to the surface can be thousands of miles from where it was emitted. For example, mercury from coal burning in Asia could rise into the atmosphere and circle the globe several times before it is oxidized, then could come to the surface anywhere. Understanding where it is oxidized and deposited would help efforts to predict ecosystem impacts of mercury emissions, he said.

"Much of emitted mercury is deposited far from its original sources," Lyman said. "Mercury emitted on the other side of the globe could be deposited right at our back door, depending on where and how it is transported, chemically transformed and deposited."

For more information, contact Lyman at 425-381-3095 or slyman@uwb.edu; or Jaffe at 425-352-5357 or djaffe@uw.edu

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht In the Arctic, spring snowmelt triggers fresh CO2 production
06.07.2020 | San Diego State University

nachricht The latest findings on the MOSAiC floe
06.07.2020 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Excitation of robust materials

Kiel physics team observed extremely fast electronic changes in real time in a special material class

In physics, they are currently the subject of intensive research; in electronics, they could enable completely new functions. So-called topological materials...

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quick notes in the genome

07.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Limitations of Super-Resolution Microscopy Overcome

07.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Put into the right light - Reproducible and sustainable coupling reactions

07.07.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>