The impact of natural source emissions on atmospheric mercury concentrations and the biogeochemical cycle of mercury is not known. To begin to assess this impact, mercury emissions to the atmosphere were scaled up for three areas naturally enriched in mercury: the Steamboat Springs geothermal area, Nevada, the New Idria mercury mining district, California, and the Medicine Lake volcano, California. Data used to scale up area emissions included mercury fluxes, measured in-situ using field flux chambers, from undisturbed and disturbed geologic substrates, and relationships between mercury emissions and geologic rock types, soil mercury concentrations, and surface heat flux. At select locations mercury fluxes were measured for 24 h and the data were used to adjust fluxes measured at different times of the day to give an average daily flux. This adjustment minimized daily temporal variability, which is observed for mercury flux because of light and temperature effects. Area emissions were scaled spatially and temporally with GIS software. Measured fluxes ranged from 0.3 to approximately 50 ng m-2 h-1 at undisturbed sites devoid of mercury mineralization, and to greater than 10,000 ng m-2 h-1 from substrates that were in areas of mercury mining. Area-averaged fluxes calculated for bare soil at Steamboat Springs, New Idria, and Medicine Lake of 181, 9.2, and 2 ng m-2 h-1, respectively, are greater than fluxes previously ascribed to natural non-point sources, indicating that these sources may be more significant contributors of mercury to the atmosphere than previously realized.
Additional publication details
Annual emissions of mercury to the atmosphere from natural sources in Nevada and California