Articles | Volume 13, issue 19
Research article
 | Highlight paper
15 Oct 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 15 Oct 2013

Cloud-resolving simulations of mercury scavenging and deposition in thunderstorms

U. S. Nair, Y. Wu, C. D. Holmes, A. Ter Schure, G. Kallos, and J. T. Walters

Abstract. This study examines dynamical and microphysical features of convective clouds that affect mercury (Hg) wet scavenging and concentrations in rainfall. Using idealized numerical model simulations in the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS), we diagnose vertical transport and scavenging of soluble Hg species – gaseous oxidized mercury (GOM) and particle-bound mercury (HgP), collectively Hg(II) – in thunderstorms under typical environmental conditions found in the Northeast and Southeast United States (US). Mercury scavenging efficiencies from various initial altitudes are diagnosed for a case study of a typical strong convective storm in the Southeast US. Assuming that soluble mercury concentrations are initially vertically uniform, the model results suggest that 60% of mercury deposited to the surface in rainwater originates from above the boundary layer (> 2 km). The free troposphere could supply a larger fraction of mercury wet deposition if GOM and HgP concentrations increase with altitude. We use radiosonde observations in the Northeast and Southeast to characterize three important environmental characteristics that influence thunderstorm morphology: convective available potential energy (CAPE), vertical shear (0–6 km) of horizontal wind (SHEAR) and precipitable water (PW). The Southeast US generally has lower SHEAR and higher CAPE and PW. We then use RAMS to test how PW and SHEAR impact mercury scavenging and deposition, while keeping the initial Hg(II) concentrations fixed in all experiments. We found that the mercury concentration in rainfall is sensitive to SHEAR with the nature of sensitivity differing depending upon the PW. Since CAPE and PW cannot be perturbed independently, we test their combined influence using an ensemble of thunderstorm simulations initialized with environmental conditions for the Northeast and Southeast US. These simulations, which begin with identical Hg(II) concentrations, predict higher mercury concentrations in rainfall from thunderstorms forming in the environmental conditions over the Southeast US compared to the Northeast US. A final simulation of a stratiform rain event produces lower mercury concentrations than in thunderstorms forming in environments typical of the Southeast US. The stratiform cloud scavenges mercury from the lowest ~ 4 km of the atmosphere, while thunderstorms scavenge up to ~ 10 km.

Final-revised paper