Observations and Model Analysis of Enhanced Oxidized Mercury in the Free Troposphere during NOMADSS
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 3:10 PM
Mercury (Hg) is a hazardous neurotoxic pollutant with complex atmospheric speciation and chemistry. It exists in the atmosphere primarily as gaseous elemental Hg (GEM), with a lifetime on the order of months, while oxidized Hg is more water soluble and deposits readily. Thus, Hg is considered both a local and a global pollutant. There are significant limitations in our understanding of global Hg cycling, including the sources and chemical mechanisms producing enhanced oxidized Hg in the free troposphere. Ground-based and airborne studies have associated free tropospheric oxidized Hg with GEM oxidation and atmospheric subsidence. Chemical transport models suggest that free tropospheric GEM oxidation is largely attributable to bromine (Br) atoms. During the 2013 Nitrogen Oxidants Mercury and Aerosol Distributions Sources and Sinks (NOMADSS) campaign, we sought to quantify the distribution and chemical transformation of Hg species in the free troposphere over the southeastern US. Enhanced oxidized Hg over North Texas was associated with long-range transport and subsidence from the sub-tropical Pacific free troposphere, where GEOS-Chem predicts air enriched in oxidized Hg. Bromine oxide (BrO) concentrations were also elevated over North Texas, perhaps supporting halogen oxidation as a source of free tropospheric oxidized Hg. Over the Atlantic Ocean, oxidized Hg up to 680 pg m-3 was associated with GEM oxidation and subsidence within the Atlantic high pressure system. The standard GEOS-Chem model underestimates free tropospheric oxidized Hg in these locations by a factor of three to ten, possibly due to underestimation of Br concentrations and/or uncertainty in the Hg+Br rate constant. We investigate GEOS-Chem’s improved ability to reproduce the observed concentrations by tripling free tropospheric Br in the tropics and implementing a faster Hg+Br oxidation mechanism. Results have important implications for our understanding of global-scale atmospheric Hg chemistry and transport.