Articles | Volume 18, issue 6
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 4361–4376, 2018
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 4361–4376, 2018

Research article 29 Mar 2018

Research article | 29 Mar 2018

High-resolution measurements of elemental mercury in surface water for an improved quantitative understanding of the Baltic Sea as a source of atmospheric mercury

Joachim Kuss1, Siegfried Krüger2, Johann Ruickoldt2, and Klaus-Peter Wlost2 Joachim Kuss et al.
  • 1Department of Marine Chemistry, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research (IOW), Rostock-Warnemünde, 18119, Germany
  • 2Department of Physical Oceanography and Measurement & Instrumentation, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research (IOW), Rostock-Warnemünde, 18119, Germany

Abstract. Marginal seas are directly subjected to anthropogenic and natural influences from land in addition to receiving inputs from the atmosphere and open ocean. Together these lead to pronounced gradients and strong dynamic changes. However, in the case of mercury emissions from these seas, estimates often fail to adequately account for the spatial and temporal variability of the elemental mercury concentration in surface water (Hg0wat). In this study, a method to measure Hg0wat at high resolution was devised and subsequently validated. The better-resolved Hg0wat dataset, consisting of about one measurement per nautical mile, yielded insight into the sea's small-scale variability and thus improved the quantification of the sea's Hg0 emission. This is important because global marine Hg0 emissions constitute a major source of atmospheric mercury.

Research campaigns in the Baltic Sea were carried out between 2011 and 2015 during which Hg0 both in surface water and in ambient air were measured. For the former, two types of equilibrators were used. A membrane equilibrator enabled continuous equilibration and a bottle equilibrator assured that equilibrium was reached for validation. The measurements were combined with data obtained in the Baltic Sea in 2006 from a bottle equilibrator only. The Hg0 sea–air flux was newly calculated with the combined dataset based on current knowledge of the Hg0 Schmidt number, Henry's law constant, and a widely used gas exchange transfer velocity parameterization. By using a newly developed pump–CTD with increased pumping capability in the Hg0 equilibrator measurements, Hg0wat could also be characterized in deeper water layers. A process study carried out near the Swedish island Øland in August 2015 showed that the upwelling of Hg0-depleted water contributed to Hg0 emissions of the Baltic Sea. However, a delay of a few days after contact between the upwelled water and light was apparently necessary before the biotic and abiotic transformations of ionic to volatile Hg0 produced a distinct sea–air Hg0 concentration gradient.

This study clearly showed spatial, seasonal, and interannual variability in the Hg0 sea–air flux of the Baltic Sea. The average annual Hg0 emission was 0.90  ±  0.18 Mg for the Baltic proper and extrapolated to 1.73  ±  0.32 Mg for the entire Baltic Sea, which is about half the amount entrained by atmospheric deposition. A comparison of our results with the Hg0 sea–air fluxes determined in the Mediterranean Sea and in marginal seas in East Asia were to some extent similar but they partly differed in terms of the deviations in the amount and seasonality of the flux.

Short summary
The emission of volatile elemental mercury by the sea is an important source of atmospheric mercury. The light-induced biotic and abiotic transformation of deposited ionic mercury to elemental mercury in surface water is highly variable. On research campaigns in the Baltic Sea a new method was applied to measure elemental mercury at high resolution. The Baltic Sea's mercury emission was subsequently calculated based on the new data and the current knowledge of mercury gas exchange parameters.
Final-revised paper