Seasonal study of mercury species in the Antarctic sea ice

Limited studies have been conducted on mercury concentrations in the polar cryosphere and the factors affecting the distribution of mercury within sea ice and snow are poorly understood. Here we present the first comprehensive seasonal study of elemental and total mercury concentrations in the Antarctic sea ice environment covering data from measurements in air, sea ice, seawater, snow, frost flowers, and brine. The average concentration of total mercury in sea ice decreased from winter to spring while the average elemental mercury concentration increased from winter to summer.

The opposite trends suggest potential photo- or dark oxidation/reduction processes within the ice and an eventual loss of mercury via brine drainage or gas evasion of elemental mercury. Our results indicate a seasonal variation of mercury species in the polar sea ice environment probably due to varying factors such as solar radiation, temperature, brine volume, and atmospheric deposition. This study shows that the sea ice environment is a significant interphase between the polar ocean and the atmosphere and should be accounted for when studying how climate change may affect the mercury cycle in polar regions.

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