With climate change rapidly affecting northern forests and wetlands, mercury reserves once protected in cold, wet soils are being exposed to burning, likely triggering large releases of mercury to the atmosphere. We quantify organic soil mercury stocks and burn areas across western, boreal Canada for use in fire emission models that explore controls of burn area, consumption severity, and fuel loading on atmospheric mercury emissions. Though renowned as hotspots for the accumulation of mercury and its transformation to the toxic methylmercury, boreal wetlands might soon transition to hotspots for atmospheric mercury emissions. Estimates of circumboreal mercury emissions from this study are 15-fold greater than estimates that do not account for mercury stored in peat soils. Ongoing and projected increases in boreal wildfire activity due to climate change will increase atmospheric mercury emissions, contributing to the anthropogenic alteration of the global mercury cycle and exacerbating mercury toxicities for northern food chains. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Wildfires threaten mercury stocks in northern soils