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Isotope Effect of Mercury Diffusion in Air

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journal contribution
posted on 07.01.2014, 00:00 by Paul G. Koster van Groos, Bradley K. Esser, Ross W. Williams, James R. Hunt
Identifying and reducing impacts from mercury sources in the environment remains a considerable challenge and requires process based models to quantify mercury stocks and flows. The stable isotope composition of mercury in environmental samples can help address this challenge by serving as a tracer of specific sources and processes. Mercury isotope variations are small and result only from isotope fractionation during transport, equilibrium, and transformation processes. Because these processes occur in both industrial and environmental settings, knowledge of their associated isotope effects is required to interpret mercury isotope data. To improve the mechanistic modeling of mercury isotope effects during gas phase diffusion, an experimental program tested the applicability of kinetic gas theory. Gas-phase elemental mercury diffusion through small bore needles from finite sources demonstrated mass dependent diffusivities leading to isotope fractionation described by a Rayleigh distillation model. The measured relative atomic diffusivities among mercury isotopes in air are large and in agreement with kinetic gas theory. Mercury diffusion in air offers a reasonable explanation of recent field results reported in the literature.