American Chemical Society
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Large-Scale Observations Support Aboveground Vegetation as an Important Biological Mercury Sink in the Tibetan Plateau

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-11-03, 05:03 authored by Zhaohan Chu, Yunzhuo Zhou, Maodian Liu, Huiming Lin, Menghan Cheng, Han Xie, Liuliang Yuan, Zhihao Zhang, Qianru Zhang, Chengcheng Li, Yuang Chen, Yanpei Guo, Long Chen, Xuejun Wang
Mercury, a pervasive global pollutant, primarily enters the atmosphere through human activities and legacy emissions from the land and oceans. A significant portion of this mercury subsequently settles on land through vegetation uptake. Characterizing mercury storage and distribution within vegetation is essential for comprehending regional and global mercury cycles. We conducted an unprecedented large-scale aboveground vegetation mercury survey across the expansive Tibetan Plateau. We find that mosses (31.1 ± 0.5 ng/g) and cushion plants (15.2 ± 0.7 ng/g) outstood high mercury concentrations. Despite exceptionally low anthropogenic mercury emissions, mercury concentrations of all biomes exceeded at least one-third of their respective global averages. While acknowledging the role of plant physiological factors, statistical models emphasize the predominant impact of atmospheric mercury on driving variations in mercury concentrations. Our estimations indicate that aboveground vegetation on the plateau accumulates 32–12+21 Mg (interquartile range) mercury. Forests occupy the highest biomass and store 82% of mercury, while mosses, representing only 3% of the biomass, disproportionally contribute 13% to mercury storage and account for 43% (2.5–1.4+3.0 Mg/year) of annual mercury assimilation by vegetation. Additionally, our study underscores that extrapolating aboveground vegetation mercury storage from lower-altitude regions to the Tibetan Plateau can lead to substantial overestimation, inspiring further exploration in alpine ecosystems worldwide.