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Natural wetlands contribute significantly to elemental cycling by volatilization


Natural wetlands cover more than 6% of the global ice-free land area and are well-known for their large contribution to global methane emissions via biological processes but until now it has not been investigated if wetlands could also be important emitters of trace elements. Element emissions via biomethylation and subsequent volatilization from pristine wetlands are virtually unstudied, even though wetlands constitute large reservoirs for trace elements and biomethylation is an important biogeochemical process in carbon-rich environments such as wetlands. In the terrestrial environment, quantification of  volatilization has almost exclusively been done in contaminated environments such as waste deposits or mining-impacted areas. 

The new study
A new study that was carried out at Eawag in cooperation with four other research institutes shows that the rates in which gaseous selenium, sulfur and arsenic are released from an alpine peat bog are considerable.
Experiment site on Gola di Lago close to Lugano,  

Experiment site on Gola di Lago
close to Lugano, (Copyright: Eawag)

The emission of the vital nutrient selenium seems especially efficient as it was found to be 40 times more efficiently volatilized than arsenic, and 100 times more efficiently volatilized than sulfur.

Since in absolute numbers the released amounts of these elements are small - for selenium the emitted amounts are on average 0.1 microgram per square meter and day - no danger for the local population exists. Still, the research project in the hills above Lugano shows: these atmospheric emissions of trace elements are far from negligible and the temperature-dependent release rates are expected to rise as a consequence of global warming. The released trace elements can potentially be transported away from the peat bog and taken up by plants and organisms somewhere else. In this way emissions of trace elements from wetlands can eventually change the distribution of these elements in the environment. Such redistribution could have important consequences for dietary selenium availability as globally up to 1 billion people have been estimated to be deficient in selenium.

Source: (adapted from)  Andri Bryner, Eawag

The original paper:

Bas Vriens, Markus Lenz, Laurent Charlet, Michael Berg, Lenny H.E. Winkel: Natural wetland emissions of methylated trace elements; Nature Communications, 5 (2014) #3035. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4035

Related studies (newest first):

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Ronit Jakob, Anja Roth, Karsten Haas, Eva M. Krupp, Andrea Raab, Patricia Smichowski, Darío Gómez, Jörg Feldmann, Atmospheric stability of arsines and the determination of their oxidative products in atmospheric aerosols (PM10): evidence of the widespread phenomena of biovolatilization of arsenic, J. Environ. Monit., 12 (2010) 409–416. DOI: 10.1039/b915867g

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Related EVISA Resources

Link database: Environmental cycling of selenium
Link database: Environmental cycling of arsenic

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last time modified: February 4, 2014


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