Gaseous elemental mercury (Hg0) is a globally distributed air toxin with a long atmospheric residence time. Any process that reduces its atmospheric lifetime increases its potential accumulation in the biosphere. Our data from Barrow, AK, at 71 degrees N show that rapid, photochemically driven oxidation of boundary-layer Hg0 after polar sunrise, probably by reactive halogens, creates a rapidly depositing species of oxidized gaseous mercury in the remote Arctic troposphere at concentrations in excess of 900 pg m(-3). This mercury accumulates in the snowpack during polar spring at an accelerated rate in a form that is bioavailable to bacteria and is released with snowmelt during the summer emergence of the Arctic ecosystem. Evidence suggests that this is a recent phenomenon that may be occurring throughout the earth's polar regions.
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