Historical reconstruction of mercury pollution across the Tibetan Plateau using lake sediments.

Environmental science & technology

PubMedID: 20345131

Yang H, Battarbee RW, Turner SD, Rose NL, Derwent RG, Wu G, Yang R. Historical reconstruction of mercury pollution across the Tibetan Plateau using lake sediments. Environ Sci Technol. 2010;44(8):2918-24.
The Tibetan Plateau is described as the "Roof of the World" averaging over 4000 m above sea level; it is remote, isolated, and presumed to be a pristine region. In order to study the history of atmospheric mercury (Hg) pollution and its spatial variation across the Plateau, lakes were chosen from three areas forming a north to south transect. Sediment cores were taken from three sites in each area and dated using the radionuclides 210Pb and 137Cs. Analysis of the cores yielded the first comprehensive Hg reconstructions for the Plateau, showing clear Hg pollution at all sites. The first indication of Hg pollution is much earlier than the onset of the industrial revolution in Europe, but the most significant pollution increase is from the 1970s, followed by a further marked increase from the 1990s. The mean post-2000 atmospheric pollution Hg accumulation rates for the sampling sites were estimated at between 5.1 and 7.9 microg m(-2) yr(-1). The increase in Hg pollution over the last few decades is synchronous with the recent economic development in Asia (especially China and India), and pollution Hg levels continue to increase. Furthermore, contemporary sediment Hg accumulation rate data are in broad agreement with Hg deposition values derived from global models that attribute pollution to sources mainly within southeast Asia. As most of the sites are exceptionally remote and situated above the atmospheric boundary layer, these results underline the need to understand the local Hg cycle in both regional and global context.