Atmospheric mercury and fine particulate matter in coastal New England: Implications for mercury and trace element sources in the northeastern United States Academic Article uri icon


  • Intensive sampling of ambient atmospheric fine particulate matter was conducted at Woods Hole, Massachusetts over a four-month period from 3 April to 29 July, 2008, in conjunction with year-long deployment of the USGS Mobile Mercury Lab. Results were obtained for trace elements in fine particulate matter concurrently with determination of ambient atmospheric mercury speciation and concentrations of ancillary gasses (SO2, NOx, and O3). For particulate matter, trace element enrichment factors greater than 10 relative to crustal background values were found for As, Bi, Cd, Cu, Hg, Pb, Sb, V, and Zn, indicating contribution of these elements by anthropogenic sources. For other elements, enrichments are consistent with natural marine (Na, Ca, Mg, Sr) or crustal (Ba, Ce, Co, Cs, Fe, Ga, La, Rb, Sc, Th, Ti, U, Y) sources, respectively. Positive matrix factorization was used together with concentration weighted air-mass back trajectories to better define element sources and their locations. Our analysis, based on events exhibiting the 10% highest PM2.5 contributions for each source category, identifies coal-fired power stations concentrated in the U.S. Ohio Valley, metal smelting in eastern Canada, and marine and crustal sources showing surprisingly similar back trajectories, at times each sampling Atlantic coastal airsheds. This pattern is consistent with contribution of Saharan dust by a summer maximum at the latitude of Florida and northward transport up the Atlantic Coast by clockwise circulation of the summer Bermuda High. Results for mercury speciation show diurnal production of RGM by photochemical oxidation of Hg° in a marine environment, and periodic traverse of the study area by correlated RGM-SO2(NOx) plumes, indicative of coal combustion sources.

publication date

  • November 2013