Horizon 2020
The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation

A global approach to effective mercury reduction strategies

EU-funded scientists are pioneering the development of a coordinated, global mercury observation system. It will help policy makers and researchers from around the world to monitor the presence of mercury in ecosystems and food chains and assess the effectiveness of emission reduction measures.

Launched in November 2010, the EU-funded Global Mercury Observation System (GMOS) distributes global monitoring data that can be used to measure mercury concentrations in sensitive ecosystems and the food chain. The data can be used to assess the effectiveness of efforts to reduce mercury concentrations and fluxes entering aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Several countries had no provisions for monitoring mercury prior to GMOS. “The GMOS community is carrying out an impressive programme of capacity building in cooperation with UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and GEF (Global Environment Facility) in order to assist nations in developing their own monitoring system,” explains project coordinator Nicola Pirrone, Director of the CNR Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research in Italy.

“We established global monitoring systems for measuring mercury concentrations in ambient air at over 40 rural locations worldwide at different latitudes. From these systems, data will be gathered to analyse emission reduction measures and their effectiveness.”

Getting a global picture

This project will fill an important monitoring gap and give scientists a truly global picture of current mercury pollution levels. Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element found in atmospheric, water and soil ecosystems. It originates in the Earth's crust and cannot be created or destroyed. However, natural and human activities can redistribute mercury with potentially hazardous health effects.

To properly monitor risks to the environment and human health, scientists and policy makers must coordinate both their research and legislative efforts. National and regional monitoring networks on their own are not enough; coordinated global mercury monitoring is needed in order to make global assessments. Prior to the GMOS project, there were no monitoring sites in the tropics or in the southern hemisphere.

“Establishing monitoring sites in these areas now means that scientists will be able to compare hemispheric levels for the first time,” says Pirrone. “The project will also help implement the Minamata Convention, approved by over 100 nations in November 2013 in Kumamoto, Japan, which among other things requires nations to assess the effectiveness of the measures implemented to reduce the emissions.

“The EU – as well as the European scientific community – played a key role in preparing the Minamata Convention, and GMOS is the only global monitoring system capable of supporting its implementation.”

Tracking changes in real time

The project has also been building up existing monitoring sites to better integrate the global monitoring community, while a task force has been created to validate and unify policy assessment tools. GMOS is also a key project of the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), contributing to develop the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which links together observing systems from around the world and encourages the development of new systems.

The GMOS database, which conserves historical data, is now continuously updated with data from the expanded monitoring network. Updated emissions data have been developed to track changes related to regulations, energy production and manufacturing output. As new data become available, model predictions are checked against observations in order to fine-tune model capabilities.

“We are confident that the EU will continue to support GMOS, enabling the European scientific community to continue and reinforce its leadership by developing advanced monitoring technologies such as sensors based on nanostructured materials, which will allow all nations to develop and manage national monitoring systems at an affordable cost,” says Pirrone. “Cost remains a limiting factor for most countries, especially in the developing world.” The five-year project is scheduled for completion in October 2015.

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