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Mercury in a Spanish peat bog: Archive of climate change and atmospheric metal deposition

Martinez-Cortizas, A., Pontevedra-Pombal, X., Garcia-Rodeja, E., Novoa-Muñoz, J.C. and Shotyk, W.  1999; Science 284: 939-942


A peat core from a bog in northwest Spain provides a record of the net accumulation of atmospheric mercury since 4000 radiocarbon years before the present. It was found that cold climates promoted an enhanced accumulation and the preservation of mercury with low thermal stability, and warm climates were characterized by a lower accumulation and the predominance of mercury with moderate to high thermal stability. This record can be separated into natural and anthropogenic components. The substantial anthropogenic mercury component began ~2500 radiocarbon years before the present, which is near the time of the onset of mercury mining in Spain. Anthropogenic mercury has dominated the deposition record since the Islamic period (8th to 11th centuries A.D.). The results shown here have implications for the global mercury cycle and also imply that the thermal lability of the accumulated mercury can be used not only to quantify the effects of human activity, but also as a new tool for quantitative paleotemperature reconstruction.