1Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
2Department of Chemistry, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England
3Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA
4Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Air Chemistry Division, Mainz, Germany
Abstract. Global models of atmospheric mercury generally assume that gas-phase OH and ozone are the main oxidants converting Hg0 to HgII and thus driving mercury deposition to ecosystems. However, thermodynamic considerations argue against the importance of these reactions. We demonstrate here the viability of atomic bromine (Br) as an alternative Hg0 oxidant. We conduct a global 3-D simulation with the GEOS-Chem model assuming gas-phase Br to be the sole Hg0 oxidant (Hg + Br model) and compare to the previous version of the model with OH and ozone as the sole oxidants (Hg + OH/O3 model). We specify global 3-D Br concentration fields based on our best understanding of tropospheric and stratospheric Br chemistry. In both the Hg + Br and Hg + OH/O3 models, we add an aqueous photochemical reduction of HgII in cloud to impose a tropospheric lifetime for mercury of 6.5 months against deposition, as needed to reconcile observed total gaseous mercury (TGM) concentrations with current estimates of anthropogenic emissions. This added reduction would not be necessary in the Hg + Br model if we adjusted the Br oxidation kinetics downward within their range of uncertainty. We find that the Hg + Br and Hg + OH/O3 models are equally capable of reproducing the spatial distribution of TGM and its seasonal cycle at northern mid-latitudes. The Hg + Br model shows a steeper decline of TGM concentrations from the tropics to southern mid-latitudes. Only the Hg + Br model can reproduce the springtime depletion and summer rebound of TGM observed at polar sites; the snowpack component of GEOS-Chem suggests that 40% of HgII deposited to snow in the Arctic is transferred to the ocean and land reservoirs, amounting to a net deposition flux to the Arctic of 60 Mg a−1. Summertime events of depleted Hg0 at Antarctic sites due to subsidence are much better simulated by the Hg + Br model. Model comparisons to observed wet deposition fluxes of mercury in the US and Europe show general consistency. However the Hg + Br model does not capture the summer maximum over the southeast US because of low subtropical Br concentrations while the Hg + OH/O3 model does. Vertical profiles measured from aircraft show a decline of Hg0 above the tropopause that can be captured by both the Hg + Br and Hg + OH/O3 models, except in Arctic spring where the observed decline is much steeper than simulated by either model; we speculate that oxidation by Cl species might be responsible. The Hg + Br and Hg + OH/O3 models yield similar global budgets for the cycling of mercury between the atmosphere and surface reservoirs, but the Hg + Br model results in a much larger fraction of mercury deposited to the Southern Hemisphere oceans.