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Health: Understanding environmental factors affecting human health and well being

GMOS — Global Mercury Observation System

Societal issue at glance

Mercury released to the global environment from a multitude of natural and anthropogenic sources is re-distributed in the environment through complex chemical, physical and biological processes that can act with different time scales. Both humans and wildlife are adversely affected by multiple chemical forms or mercury species. Bioaccumulation of methylmercury along the aquatic food chain, causing elevated health issues among fish-consumers, is of big concern and several processes are still unknown (Figure 1). In addition, there is no coordinated global observational network for mercury that could be used by the modeling community or to establish recommendations to protect human health and ecosystems on a global scale.

Efforts to address the problem, and societal impact of the activity

Improved information on emissions have contributed to further progress in assessment of the regional impacts of mercury on terrestrial and aquatic environments. Major international activity to assess source - receptor relationships for mercury in the environment has been carried out within several international conventions and programmes (i.e., UNEP, UNECE-LRTAP, OSPA, HELCOM, ACAPs, MERSA, AMAP) and projects (i.e., MAMCS, AME, MOE, MERCYMS, ESPREME). Policy makers in Europe have also taken the advantage of improved information on emissions. At international level, UNEP has been working to address mercury issues and in February 2009, the UNEP Governing Council agreed on the need to develop a global legally binding instrument on mercury, which will be accomplished by 2013.

To support international efforts, in 2010 the EU funded the Global Mercury Observation System (GMOS) project aimed to develop a coordinated global observation system for mercury, including ground-based stations at high altitude and sea level locations (Figure 2), ad-hoc oceanographic cruises over major oceans and seas worldwide and free tropospheric mercury measurements (Figure 3). The project will provide high quality data for the validation and application of regional and global scale atmospheric models, to give a firm basis for future policy development and implementation.

Also the GEO workplan 20012-2015 includes a Task (HE-02) related to the Global Mercury Observation (C1)) along with that on POPs (C2) aimed to establishing a coordinated forecasting and alerting system for health-related problems, and specifically with reference to those related to the exposure of human populations to mercury.

Involved institutions

The GMOS Project includes 23 partners from 18 countries and 8 external partners from on-going international networks and programs (e.g. NADP, CAMnet). The Policy Advisory Board (PAB) includes Representatives of major organizations that are in charge to policy development aimed to reduce the impact of mercury contaminations on human health (i.e UNEP, UNECE-LRTAP, GEO, WHO, EC).

Specific Science and Technology (S&T) components of the activity

S&T components deal with:
  • an international observation system, which provides a consistent and standardized set of long-term data on ambient concentrations and deposition fluxes of atmospheric mercury in its various forms;
  • ad-hoc open-ocean investigations to study gas exchange of mercury between the surface water and the atmosphere;
  • dedicated aircraft studies with ongoing project (i.e. CARIBIC, NAAMEX, ETMEP) and vertical profiling and plume identification/tracking with improved temporal and spatial vertical profile of mercury species concentration;
  • the development of an interoperable system to facilitate data integration, data re-use, and data exchange within and beyond the GMOS by means international standards for data and spatial schema‚Äôs (ISO19107, ISO14825), for metadata (ISO19115:2003, ISO/DTS19139:2005, ISO15836) and for services (WMS 1.1.1, WFS 1.0, SLD 1.0, GML 3.1).

S&T communities involved and their benefit

GMOS is closely cooperating with major international programs including the UNEP Global Partnership Area on Atmospheric Mercury Transport and Fate Research (UNEP F&T), the Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollutants (TF HTAP) of the UNECE-LRTAP convention, the GEO Task (HE-02 on Tracking Pollutants) and AMAP. The results of past EU funded projects (i.e., MAMCS, MOE, MERCYMS) provide a solid basis of knowledge in terms of state-of-the-art atmospheric models, monitoring methodologies, interoperable tools management and environmental policy analysis instruments.

Substantially, GMOS expands the availability, use, and application of environmental information in order to improve monitoring of the state of the Earth, in relation to mercury pollution and its impact on humans and ecosystems, increase understanding of Earth processes, and enhance prediction of the behavior of the Earth system. The proposed task will meet the need, as quoted in GEOSS strategic targets, for timely, quality long-term global information as a basis for sound decision making, and will enhance delivery of benefits to society in the following initial areas:

  • Understanding environmental factors affecting human health and well-being;
  • Improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems.

GMOS and specific S&T issues identified in the GEO Science Paper1)

The following S&T issues are addressed by GMOS:

  • Improve interoperability between global observing systems, modeling systems, and information systems;
  • Facilitate data sharing, data archiving, data dissemination, and reanalysis;
  • Optimize data storage i.e., observations, assimilation of data into models, and generation of data products to improve understanding of the global integrated Earth system for prediction of environmental phenomena;
  • Enhance value of global observations from individual observing systems through their integration in the societal benefit areas;
  • Harmonize well-calibrated, high-accuracy, stable, sustained in-situ and satellite observations of the same variable recorded by different sensors and different agencies.

GMOS objectives and research strategy directly relate to the vision and approach outlined in the GEO S&T paper.

Added value of GEOSS for the activity and for the S&T communities involved

As the GMOS activity is based on a global network for operational monitoring and capacity building, including advanced centres from both developed and developing countries, its activity will be substantially improved by GEOSS.

Significant S&T issues are addressed in GMOS. They range from in-situ, shipborne and airborne observing products to climate/chemical atmosphere modelling and assimilation data; from development of advanced sensor to interoperable systems.

It is foreseen that the contribution of GMOS to the overarching goals of GEOOS will be substantial.

Extent to which the activity is leading to sustained operations that would continue to benefit S&T communities

The GMOS activity would benefit S&T communities by:

  • designing, installing and maintaining for long term the in-situ observation network;
  • running seaborne and airborne observations at global and regional level;
  • developing, calibrating and intercomparing regional and global models;
  • designing an ad-hoc SDI for data fusion and sharing.

The activity of GMOS will:

  • integrate existing national or regional activities at global level (e.g. NADP, CARIBIC, EMEP);
  • facilitate cross-cutting research activities through its multidisciplinary approach;
  • develop advanced monitoring systems capable to improve its capability to be integrated into Earth observation systems (Figure 4);
  • facilitate capacity building by transferring knowledge to a number of stakeholders and policy makers by developing an advanced SDI and related interoperable system for facilitating data sharing.

Project Coordinator:
Dr. Nicola Pirrone
CNR-Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research, Rome, Italy
E-mail: pirrone at iia.cnr.it

More information on the project is available at www.gmos.eu.

A poster was presented at the Ministerial Summit, November 201,0, Beijing, China. Download the poster ...


1) GEO Science and Technology Committee, 2007: The Role of Science and Technology in GEOSS. Available at http://www.earthobservations.org/documents/committees/stc/the_role_of_science_and_technology_in_geoss.pdf.

Figure 1: Relationship between the bio-geochemical cycle of mercury (left) and the food web (right).


Figure 2: GMOS Global monitoring network.


Figure 3: GMOS planned global and regional monitoring campaigns.


Figure 4: GMOS SDI for data and metadata sharing.


Figure 5: EV-K2 station in Everest Range.


Figure 6: Dome-C monitoring station in Antarctica.



Last edited 02 December 2016

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