All-time releases of mercury to the atmosphere from human activities

David G. Streets, Molly K. Devane, Zifeng Lu, Tami C. Bond, Elsie M. Sunderland, Daniel J. Jacob

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the biogeochemical cycling of mercury is critical for explaining the presence of mercury in remote regions of the world, such as the Arctic and the Himalayas, as well as local concentrations. While we have good knowledge of present-day fluxes of mercury to the atmosphere, we have little knowledge of what emission levels were like in the past. Here we develop a trend of anthropogenic emissions of mercury to the atmosphere from 1850 to 2008-for which relatively complete data are available-and supplement that trend with an estimate of anthropogenic emissions prior to 1850. Global mercury emissions peaked in 1890 at 2600 Mg yr-1, fell to 700-800 Mg yr-1 in the interwar years, then rose steadily after 1950 to present-day levels of 2000 Mg yr-1. Our estimate for total mercury emissions from human activities over all time is 350 Gg, of which 39% was emitted before 1850 and 61% after 1850. Using an eight-compartment global box-model of mercury biogeochemical cycling, we show that these emission trends successfully reproduce present-day atmospheric enrichment in mercury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10485-10491
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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