1Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, and Department of Chemistry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada
2Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Group, Institute for Physical Chemistry Rocasolano, CSIC, Madrid, Spain
*now at: The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, India
**now at: School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT, Leeds, UK
Abstract. Mercury is a contaminant of global concern. It is transported in the atmosphere primarily as gaseous elemental mercury, but its reactivity and deposition to the surface environment, through which it enters the aquatic food chain, is greatly enhanced following oxidation. Measurements of oxidised mercury in the polar to sub-tropical marine boundary layer have suggested that photolytically produced bromine atoms are the primary oxidant of mercury. We report year-round measurements of elemental and oxidised mercury, along with ozone, halogen oxides (IO and BrO) and nitrogen oxides (NO2), in the marine boundary layer over the Galápagos Islands in the Equatorial Pacific. Elemental mercury concentration remained low throughout the year, while considerable concentrations of oxidised mercury occurred around midday. Our results show that the production of oxidised mercury in the tropical marine boundary layer cannot be accounted for by only bromine oxidation, or by the inclusion of ozone and hydroxyl. A two-step oxidation mechanism where the HgBr intermediate is further oxidised to Hg(II) depends critically on the stability of HgBr. If the current paradigm is considered, another oxidant is needed to explain more than 50% of the observed oxidised mercury. We show that atomic iodine could play the role of the missing oxidant, explaining not only the Hg(II) levels observed, but also the daily variability. However, more recent theoretical calculations indicate that the thermal dissociation rate of HgBr is much faster, by an order of magnitude, than previously reported, which implies that only trace gases at relatively high mixing ratios forming stable complexes with HgBr (such as HO2 and NO2) could compete to generate levels of Hg(II) similar to those observed in our study. Nevertheless, the daily variability of oxidised mercury is not well accounted for by using these new theoretically estimated rates. Furthermore, correlation analysis does not support a major role of NO2 or HO2. We conclude that the key pathway that significantly enhances atmospheric mercury oxidation and deposition to the tropical oceans is missing from the current understanding of atmospheric mercury oxidation.