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USGS Mobile Atmospheric Mercury Laboratory Makes an Impact

USGS scientists setting up mercury-aerosol sampling equipment
USGS scientists setting up mercury-aerosol sampling equipment in front of the USGS Mobile Atmospheric Mercury Laboratory at the Weeks Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, Mobile, Alabama.

A team of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mercury scientists has developed a mobile atmospheric mercury laboratory capable of rapidly measuring the various forms of mercury and their concentration in air, in conjunction with relevant air quality and meteorological parameters. The combined mercury, air quality, and meteorological data collected by the mobile laboratory enables scientists to examine the relative importance of local, regional, and global mercury contributions. This relationship is important to evaluate in order to assess whether corrective actions on a local, regional, or global level would achieve improved environmental conditions at a given location.

The mobile laboratory has been deployed at numerous sites across the country to aid federal, state, and local agencies assess mercury contamination issues. USGS scientists are using the unique capabilities of the mobile laboratory to:

  • Investigate potential relations between areas of high mercury deposition and high levels of methylmercury in fish
  • Assess whether natural mixing of air over continents with air over oceans has an effect on overall mercury deposition rates
  • Evaluate the relative amounts of atmospheric mercury at a given location that are from local, regional, and global sources
  • Investigate the extent of a geographic area that receives mercury from an individual mercury source
  • Determine the effect on ecosystems of atmospherically transported mercury from local mercury sources, such as coal-fired power plants

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