U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Science & Technology Vol. 42, No. 5, 2008.


Mercury is deposited to the Polar Regions during springtime atmospheric mercury depletion events (AMDEs) but the relationship between snow and ice crystal formation and mercury deposition is not well understood. The objective of this investigation was to determine if mercury concentrations were related to the type and formation of snow and ice crystals. On the basis of almost three hundred analyses of samples collected in the Alaskan Arctic, we suggest that kinetic crystals growing from the vapor phase, including surface hoar, frost flowers, and diamond dust, yield mercury concentrations that are typically 2-10 times higher than that reported for snow deposited during AMDEs (~80 ng/L). Our results show that the crystal type and formation affect the mercury concentration in any given snow sample far more than the AMDE activity prior to snow collection. We present a conceptual model of how snow grain processes including deposition, condensation, reemission, sublimation, and turbulent diffusive uptake influence mercury concentrations in snow and ice. These processes are time dependent and operate collectively to affect the retention and fate of mercury in the cryosphere. The model highlights the importance of the formation and postdeposition crystallographic history of snow or ice crystals in determining the fate and concentration of mercury in the cryosphere.