Research establishes a natural baseline for mercury in the atmosphere by estimating emissions from volcanic eruptions. Humans have increased the concentration of potentially toxic mercury in the atmosphere sevenfold since the beginning of the modern era around 1500 C.E., according to new research from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

The research team, led by Elsie M. Sunderland, the Fred Kavli Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, developed a new method to accurately estimate how much mercury is emitted annually from volcanos, the largest single natural emitter of mercury. The team used that estimate — along with a computer model — to reconstruct pre-anthropogenic atmospheric mercury levels.

The researchers estimated that before humans started pumping mercury into the atmosphere, it contained on average about 580 megagrams of mercury. However, in 2015, independent research that looked at all available atmospheric measurements estimated the atmospheric mercury reservoir was about 4,000 Mg — nearly 7 times larger than the natural condition estimated in this study. Read more at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Source: ENN

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