Two decades of changing anthropogenic mercury emissions in Australia: inventory development, trends, and atmospheric implications

Publication Name

Environmental science. Processes & impacts


Mercury is a toxic environmental pollutant emitted into the atmosphere by both natural and anthropogenic sources. In Australia, previous estimates of anthropogenic mercury emissions differ by up to a factor of three, with existing inventories either outdated or inaccurate and several lacking Australia-specific input data. Here, we develop a twenty-year inventory of Australian anthropogenic mercury emissions spanning 2000-2019 with annual resolution. Our inventory uses Australia-specific data where possible and incorporates processes not included in other Australian inventories, such as delayed release effects from waste emissions. We show that Australian anthropogenic mercury emissions have decreased by more than a factor of two over the past twenty years, with the largest decrease from the gold production sector followed by brown coal-fired power plants and commercial product waste. Only the aluminium sector has shown a notable increase in mercury emissions. Using a global 3-D chemical transport model (GEOS-Chem), we show that the reduction in emissions has led to a small decrease in mercury deposition to the Australian continent, with annual oxidised mercury deposition ∼3-4% lower with present day emissions than with emissions from the year 2000. We also find that Australian emissions are not accurately represented in recent global emissions inventories and that differences between inventories have a larger impact than emissions trends on simulated mercury deposition. Overall, this work suggests a significant benefit to Australia from the Minamata Convention, with further reductions to Australian mercury deposition expected from decreases in both Australian and global anthropogenic emissions.

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