Getting the Lead Out of Bermuda; The Legacy of a Forty Year Record in the North Atlantic Using a Transient Experiment in the Atmosphere and Water
Abstract:Some forty years ago, Schaule and Patterson established the first accurate profile of lead in waters off Bermuda. In evidence was a massive environmental insult from lead emissions being carried seaward by the atmosphere over the Sargasso Sea. Further documentation was possible using contiguous time series in the atmosphere on Bermuda, surface sea water nearby and recorded in local corals. Lead had then an overwhelming source from the combustion of gasoline, primarily in the USA and secondarily in Europe. These were carried to Bermuda on seasonally alternating temperate and trade winds from the west and east, respectively. The anthropogenic sources were well distinguished based on the unique radiogenic nature of stable lead isotopes in the gasoline being used by these countries. Subsequently, decreasing use in the west (USA) followed by that in the east (Europe) was isotopically evident. As such, the two signatures were subjected to transient mixing in the atmosphere and subsequently with depth in ocean.
A transient experiment uses data during 1996-1998, a period of transition in leaded gasoline use in the USA and Europe. Here are complimentary records of lead concentration and stable isotopes in atmospheric deposition and surface waters. The results allow an isotopic mass balance, indicating much of the lead in Bermuda surface water at that time may not have been deposited locally. As such, it may be presumed to reflect easterly advection of some lead at the surface under limited scavenging via the prevailing subtropical gyre circulation. These annual circulation periods are consistent with both physical data and another lead isotopic mass balance in the east. Going forward, Bermuda time series of trace elements and isotopes such as lead could continue to record climatological (e.g. NAO) transients in atmospheric scavenging, potential impact on surface ecosystems, and changes in mixing into deeper waters of the Sargasso Sea and points further afield.