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The timing and magnitude of anthropogenic mercury pollution: A 200-year record from multi-lake sediment cores in northeast China



The recent substantial expansion of human activities in northeast (NE) China has resulted in increased emission of environmental pollutants. Longer-term records of such environmental pollutants provide a benchmark against which it is possible to evaluate the nature, extent and timing of anthropogenic environmental changes. Based on measurements of mercury (Hg) concentrations and accumulation rates in 11 lake sediment cores from the Songnen Plain in NE China, we here present a reconstruction of the historical deposition of Hg as an indicator of the changing scale of human impact. The results demonstrate an increasing trend of Hg concentration, concurrent with elevated anthropogenic emissions, beginning from the early 1900s, accelerating through the mid-1950s and slightly decreasing from the late 1990s onwards. The increase in anthropogenic Hg coincides with the reform and opening up of China, which precipitated social and economic transformation, and rapid industrial and economic growth. Measurements of the Hg enrichment factor in all the cores enables identification of the anthropogenic contribution to Hg accumulation. The geoaccumulation index indicates that the lakes are in general moderately polluted by Hg. The historical trend of Hg accumulation rate parallels the temporal progression of biomass burning and fossil fuel consumption in the region. The findings elucidate the extent of anthropogenic pollution in the Anthropocene and underline the importance of identifying Hg sources to reduce emissions and guide the implementation of effective mitigation strategies.