Understanding global cycling of atmosphere-surface exchangeable pollutants and its implications

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Noelle E Selin, Amanda Giang, Shaojie Song, Colin Pike-thackray and Carey L Friedman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States
We combine modeling approaches with data analysis to provide quantitative constraints on the global biogeochemical cycling of pollutants such as mercury (Hg) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These pollutants, released by human activities, continue to cycle between land, ocean, and atmosphere surfaces, extending their effective lifetimes in the environment. Measurement data are limited for all of these substances, providing few constraints on the magnitude of surface-atmosphere fluxes and thus the timescales of their cycling. This limits our ability to trace emissions to impacts for these substances, particularly in the context of both ongoing policies and climate change. We present a suite of modeling and analysis tools, including uncertainty analysis, that can provide quantitative constraints on cycling for these data-limited problems, and we illustrate their applicability through examples of Hg and selected POPs. Specifically, we summarize recent insights from inverse modeling of mercury, polynomial chaos-based methods for PAHs. Finally, we assess how uncertainty in timescales affects the entire emissions-to-impacts pathway for atmosphere-surface exchangeable pollutants. We discuss the implications of this analysis for policies under the Stockholm and Minamata Conventions.