Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Frost flowers growing in the Arctic ocean-atmosphere–sea ice–snow interface: 2. Mercury exchange between the atmosphere, snow, and frost flowers



[1] Frost flowers are ice crystals that grow on refreezing sea ice leads in Polar Regions by wicking brine from the sea ice surface and accumulating vapor phase condensate. These crystals contain high concentrations of mercury (Hg) and are believed to be a source of reactive halogens, but their role in Hg cycling and impact on the fate of Hg deposited during atmospheric mercury depletion events (AMDEs) are not well understood. We collected frost flowers growing on refreezing sea ice near Barrow, Alaska (U.S.A.) during an AMDE in March 2009 and measured Hg concentrations and Hg stable isotope ratios in these samples to determine the origin of Hg associated with the crystals. We observed decreasing Δ199Hg values in the crystals as they grew from new wet frost flowers (mean Δ199Hg = 0.77 ± 0.13‰, 1 s.d.) to older dry frost flowers (mean Δ199Hg = 0.10 ± 0.05‰, 1 s.d.). Over the same time period, mean Hg concentrations in these samples increased from 131 ± 6 ng/L (1 s.d.) to 180 ± 28 ng/L (1 s.d.). Coupled with a previous study of Hg isotopic fractionation during AMDEs, these results suggest that Hg initially deposited to the local snowpack was subsequently reemitted during photochemical reduction reactions and ultimately accumulated on the frost flowers. As a result of this process, frost flowers may lead to enhanced local retention of Hg deposited during AMDEs and may increase Hg loading to the Arctic Ocean.