Permafrost stores a globally significant amount of mercury

Geophysical Research Letters
By: , and 

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Abstract

Changing climate in northern regions is causing permafrost to thaw with major implications for the global mercury (Hg) cycle. We estimated Hg in permafrost regions based on in situ measurements of sediment total mercury (STHg), soil organic carbon (SOC), and the Hg to carbon ratio (RHgC) combined with maps of soil carbon. We measured a median STHg of 43 ± 30 ng Hg g soil−1 and a median RHgC of 1.6 ± 0.9 μg Hg g C−1, consistent with published results of STHg for tundra soils and 11,000 measurements from 4,926 temperate, nonpermafrost sites in North America and Eurasia. We estimate that the Northern Hemisphere permafrost regions contain 1,656 ± 962 Gg Hg, of which 793 ± 461 Gg Hg is frozen in permafrost. Permafrost soils store nearly twice as much Hg as all other soils, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined, and this Hg is vulnerable to release as permafrost thaws over the next century. Existing estimates greatly underestimate Hg in permafrost soils, indicating a need to reevaluate the role of the Arctic regions in the global Hg cycle.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Permafrost stores a globally significant amount of mercury
Series title Geophysical Research Letters
DOI 10.1002/2017GL075571
Volume 45
Issue 3
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 9 p.
First page 1463
Last page 1471