With the signing of the UNEP Minamata Convention in 2013 and its ratification in 2017, the world’s governments have accepted that mercury (Hg) is toxic and of global relevance; scientific needs will therefore shift towards best implementation practices of the Convention. Because the majority of Hg emissions emanate from the energy and industrial sectors governments will have to balance economic and environmental interests. The question then becomes how does one assess such a balance?

Biogeochemical Hg cycling is complex and superimposed on the strongly perturbed Hg cycle and natural process of biomethylation that generates the bioaccumulating/biomagnifying monomethyl Hg (MMHg) form that we are all exposed to when we consume fish. Today, comprehensive multimedia models of the biogeochemical Hg cycle are being developed that capture this complexity to try to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental policy scenarios. For these models to work, however, they must include realistic descriptions of the Hg transformations and fluxes that occur within and between the Earth’s environmental compartments. Despite decades of Hg science, we still lack answers to the most basic questions concerning the fundamental Hg transformations and fluxes.

Therefore we created GMOS-Train programme. With the purpose to better understand the global exchange of Hg between atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere, the next generation of young researchers will gain expertise through a network-based, highly interdisciplinary research training programme including atmospheric chemistry and physics, aquatic chemistry, ecology, analytical chemistry, multimedia modelling, and the use of science results for policy making. An additional feature is the strong inter-sectorial collaboration involving academic and non-academic partners, NGOs and international organisations.

15

ESR positions

48

months of research

9

academic beneficiaries

2

industrial beneficiaries

6

countries

Being trained in highly relevant research topics will enhance researchers career prospective and employability. Moreover, complimentary training in dissemination using Open Science principles, communication, exploitation and outreach will enforce the transfer of science results to effective policy making.

New generations of environmental scientists must therefore be able to bridge fundamental research and societal challenges using a toolkit of R&D skills, predictive modelling, policy-making, and communication.

The overall objectives of the GMOS-Train network are

to provide urgently needed training in Hg science within the context of the UNEP Minamata Convention

to fill key knowledge gaps in biogeochemical Hg cycling linking anthropogenic emissions and Hg in marine food webs

Specific science and training objectives of the GMOS-Train are:

  • to improve the understanding of the complex physical, chemical and biogeochemical processes of atmospheric Hg fractions/species that govern deposition of oxidized fractions of mercury and re-emission of volatile Hg species: relevant transformation processes include redox reactions, photochemical, adsorption/desorption, methylation/demethylation and biologically mediated processes;
  • to improve the understanding of mercury dynamics in coastal and open ocean marine environments: assessment of the origins and transformations of all Hg species, including, inorganic, dissolved gaseous and methylated Hg species (MMHg and dimethyl-Hg (DMHg)) will be implemented using state of the art tools including novel isotopic techniques. Several large scale open ocean cruises and observations in contrasting coast-to-open oceans transects (Mediterranean and Baltic seas, NE Atlantic Ocean) will be complemented by laboratory scale studies and supported/combined with already existing databases. Exchange fluxes of gaseous Hg species (DGM = DMHg + Hg(0))at the ocean-atmosphere-interface fluxes) will be refined;
  • to investigate Hg and MMHg bioaccumulation in lower food webs in marine environments: sorption and uptake rates by key marine particles (particulate organic matter (POM), microbes, phytoplankton, zooplankton) along the abiotic/biotic continuum will be investigated using state of the art isotopic techniques under controlled laboratory and mesocosm experiments, and by field observations in the coast-to-open oceans transects;
  • to improve comparability of measurements in the atmosphere and to develop in-situ biosensors for the determination of bioavailable fraction of mercury in aquatic environment and to test new and validated methodologies in the atmosphere and water in field campaigns;
  • to assess the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to act as a net source or sink of Hg: mobility and reactivity of terrestrial Hg, its inter-compartmental exchanges and interactions with organic matter will be investigated using tailored experiments at land-sea transects, permafrost regions and canopy. Terrestrial Hg fluxes will be quantified using existing spatially-resolved datasets and updated supporting modelling tools;
  • to strengthen understanding of processes that govern exchange of Hg among major environmental reservoirs: based on novel observations and existing long-term databases (GMOS, GEOTRACES, GEO, AMNET, AMAP) state-of-the-art atmospheric and oceanic hydrodynamic numerical chemistry transport models will be coupled to investigate fluxes under current and future conditions;
  • to model the Hg cycle from emissions to bio-accumulation in marine lower trophic levels: existing numerical atmosphere, ocean, and ecosystem models will be coupled and adapted to model Hg cycling. Novel findings derived within this project, addressing key knowledge gaps, will be used together with literature derived data. Processes of interest are: transport, transformations (methylation/demethylation/reduction/oxidation), intercompartmental exchanges, processes and biological uptake into lower trophic marine food webs;
  • to support the implementation of the Minamata Convention based on global and regional modelling: model studies will be performed to examine the impact of natural and anthropogenic drivers on mercury cycling and accumulation. This will support an effectiveness evaluation of mitigation strategies on how Hg emission and global change scenarios affect MMHg formation and bioaccumulation in marine ecosystems;
  • to enhance researchers career prospective and employability by providing state-of-the-art science & technology training, and effective complimentary training in dissemination, communication, exploitation and outreach with the overall aim to enforce the transfer of science results to effective policy making.