The relative importance of chlorine and bromine radicals in the oxidation of atmospheric mercury at Barrow, Alaska

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Abstract

[1] Mercury is a toxic environmental contaminant originating from both natural and anthropogenic sources. Gaseous elemental mercury (GEM) is relatively long lived in the midlatitudes and can be transported long distances in the atmosphere. In the Polar Regions, mercury can have a much shorter lifetime and is known to experience episodic depletions following polar sunrise in concert with ozone depletion events. A series of photochemically initiated reactions involving halogen radicals is believed to be the primary pathway responsible for converting elemental mercury to oxidized forms of reactive gaseous mercury (RGM) that are subsequently deposited to snow and ice surfaces. Using field measurements from the Ocean-Atmosphere-Sea Ice-Snowpack (OASIS) 2009 field campaign of GEM, RGM, ozone, and a large suite of both inorganic halogen and volatile organic compounds, we calculated steady state Br and Cl atom concentrations and investigated the contribution of Br, BrO, Cl, ClO, O3, and OH to the observed decay of GEM for five cases of apparent first-order decay. The results of this study indicate that Br and BrO are the dominant oxidizers for Arctic mercury depletion events, with Br having the greatest overall contribution to GEM decay. Ozone is likely the primary factor controlling the relative contribution of Br and BrO, as BrO is a product of the reaction of Br with ozone, and reaction with O3 can be the largest Br atom sink. Cl was not found to be significant in any of the studied events; however, this result is highly dependent on the rate constant, for which there is a large range in the literature. Modeled 48 h back trajectories of the mercury depletion events studied here indicate significant time spent over sea ice–covered regions, where the concentration of halogen radicals is likely higher than those estimated using local-scale chemical mole fractions.

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