The state of Nevada has extensive mineral resources, and is the largest producer of gold in the USA as well as fourth in world gold production. Mercury (Hg) is often present in the hydrothermal systems that produce gold deposits, and can be found in elevated concentrations in gold ore. As a result, mining of gold ore in Nevada has been shown to release Hg to the atmosphere from point and non-point sources. This project focused on measurement of air-soil Hg exchange associated with undisturbed soils and bedrock outcrops in the vicinity of two large gold mines. Field and laboratory data collected were used to identify the important variables controlling Hg flux from these surfaces, and to estimate a net flux from the areas adjacent to the active mines as well as that occurring from the mined area pre-disturbance. Mean daily flux by substrate type ranged from 9ngm -2day -1 to 140ngm -2day -1. Periods of net deposition of elemental Hg were observed when air masses originating from a mine site moved over sampling locations. Based on these observations and measured soil Hg concentrations we suggest that emissions from point and non-point sources at the mines are a source of Hg to the surrounding substrates with the amount deposited not being of an environmental concern but of interest mainly with respect to the cycling of atmospheric elemental Hg. Observations indicate that while some component of the deposited Hg is sequestered in the soil, this Hg is gradually released back to the atmosphere over time. Estimated pre-disturbance emissions from the current mine footprints based on field data were 0.1 and 1.7kgyr -1, compared to that estimated for the current non-point mining sources of 19 and 109kgyr -1, respectively.
- atmospheric mercury