Moving to Slovenia has been exciting and full of adventure. Despite most of the events happening through online platforms, I did have the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful regions of Slovenia as part of the field campaigns to study the role of forest ecosystems in the exchange of Hg between the atmosphere and terrestrial compartments. One important aspect of this was the validation of the methodology for Hg determination in foliar samples which is needed for the estimation of the uncertainties associated with different sampling approaches and sample preparation techniques. For this reason, field visits were carried out for the collection of foliar samples from two contrasting forest sites in Slovenia. We visited Idrija which has an extensive history of mercury mining. Samples were collected from forest site adjacent to the smelter plant having a 500-year-old mining history and which is also inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 2012 for the same reason.


Foliage samples were collected from different locations on the tree crown and stored following an approved protocol. Similar sample collection was also done in Ljubljana city which is relatively less contaminated and has no reported major Hg point source. Following their transport to the laboratory, foliage samples were treated in several ways during their preparation for the determination of Hg content among other elements.  Apart from this, the seasonal variation in foliar Hg concentrations is also being studied at two additional sites. Whereas the Salonit Anhovo cement factory remains at the center of attention mainly due to the potential risk of Hg emission into the surrounding environment, Iskrba is considered a remote site located in the southern part of Slovenia far away from any major Hg source. These visits are providing the necessary experience to understand the key role of forest ecosystems in global Hg biogeochemical cycle.

Another important aspect under study is how some of the potential explanatory variables (predictors) explain the spatial patterns of Hg uptake by forest ecosystems on a global scale. Using available global datasets and with the help of advanced machine learning tools, the aim is to predict future scenarios of the intensity as well as the spatial patterns of Hg exchange between the atmosphere and terrestrial compartments.


In addition to this, I also enjoy working in the laboratory, helping my colleagues in their work, and  getting trained for the determination of THg and MeHg in water samples at the Mercury lab. We are also maintaining the Tekran speciation unit in Ljubljana and I am confident that the upcoming secondments and other networking events planned in the GMOS-Train project will be yet another opportunity to learn diverse set of skills and enhance my capacity as a researcher.

By Saeed Waqar Ali (ESR 9)