NOAA 2000-R512
Contact: Jana Goldman


A team of federal and state scientists, using a uniquely outfitted airplane, have begun a series of flights off the Florida coast that will allow researchers to identify the forms of mercury present in Florida skies that get deposited on land and water. Mercury is a major concern because it can accumulate in the aquatic food web and cause toxic effects to wildlife, especially fish-eating predators.

Modified by NOAA to carry research instruments, the Twin Otter offers a unique capability to explore atmospheric deposition of pollution. Using new measurement methods developed by EPA and the Florida DEP, the plane will help researchers identify forms of very low levels of mercury present in Florida skies as the agencies work to understand elevated mercury compounds found in the Everglades.

Mercury in several of Florida freshwater fish species has been recognized by the state and EPA's Regional Office in Atlanta as reaching some of the highest concentrations in the Southeast. The problem is most critical in the Everglades, a unique environment of grassy marshlands and tree islands that is home to a variety of plants and animals.

The Florida DEP, EPA, NOAA and several other state and federal agencies have worked for several years on a series of studies of mercury in the Everglades, including the waters, fish, wildlife, and sediments. In 1998, EPA and the Florida DEP developed and validated a unique method of measuring very low levels of the water-soluble form of mercury in the atmosphere (between one and several thousand pictograms per cubic meter of air). Although these concentrations are very low, this form of mercury deposits on land and water very efficiently, and the environmental repercussions are severe.

The study began with a set of flights in January; a second set of flights will continue through June 30. Ten flights will be made at various altitudes about 100 miles east of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In addition to various forms of mercury, scientists will also measure other pollutants, such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, freons, trace elements, and total particle concentrations.

The Broward County Division of Air Quality in Florida is making its laboratories available for the study and providing other assistance. The EPA and NOAA anticipate a preliminary report summarizing the findings of the mercury study in the fall.

To learn more about NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory, visit:

To learn more about EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory, visit:

For more information about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, visit:

Information about the Florida mercury program can also be found at: