Mercury and ozone depletion events in the Arctic linked to sea-ice dynamics

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Posted January 16, 2014
Mercury and ozone depletion events in the Arctic linked to sea-ice dynamics
This is an aerial photo of sea ice leads and the clouds generated directly above a sea ice lead due to the large temperature differences between the water and air near Barrow, Alaska. Credit: Lars Kaleschke
This week a new study published in Nature and co-authored by Drs. Chris Moore and Daniel Obrist of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute establishes, for the first time, a link between Arctic sea ice dynamics and the region’s changing atmospheric chemistry potentially leading to increased amounts of mercury deposited to the Earth’s northernmost and most fragile ecosystems.

The opening and closing of sea ice leads (large cracks in the ice that expose warmer seawater to the cold polar atmosphere) create a pumping effect, explained Moore, an assistant research professor in DRI’s atmospheric science division, that in turn causes atmospheric depletion events. These events are coupled with the destruction of ozone and ultimately the deposition of atmospheric mercury onto snow and ice, a portion of which can enter Arctic ecosystems during snowmelt.

“The atmospheric mixing created when thinner, seasonal sea ice opens to form leads is so strong,” Moore said, “that it actually pulls down mercury from a higher layer of the atmosphere to near the surface.”

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