Mercury as a Geophysical Tracer Gas - Emissions from the Emperor Qin Tomb in Xi´an Studied by Laser Radar

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Mercury is, because of its high vapor pressure and its prevalence in the atmosphere as atoms, an interesting geophysical tracer gas, also with potential archaeological applications. According to historical records dating back 2200 years, the mausoleum chamber of the “Terracotta Army Emperor” Qin in Xi´an, China, contains large amounts of liquid mercury, considered as an elixir of life at the time. We here report on measurements of the atmospheric contents of atomic mercury above the tomb mound performed with a mobile differential absorption lidar (light detection and ranging) system. Our measurements, which were performed from three different locations around the mound, indeed indicate elevated atmospheric mercury levels, with localizations, which correlate with previous in situ soil sampling results. Concentrations up to 27 ng/m3 were observed, significantly higher than the typical general pollutant level in the area which was found to be around 5–10 ng/m3. An out-flux of about 5×10−8 kg/s was estimated. Highly volatile mercury may be escaping through cracks, which developed in the structure over time, and our investigation supports ancient chronicle records on the tomb, which is believed never to have been opened/looted. Our findings also have bearings on the proposed use of mercury as a tracer gas for valuable ores and geothermal resource exploration, and also bring problematics around reliable nuclear waste long-term underground storage to mind.


  • Guangyu Zhao
  • Weixing Zhang
  • Zheng Duan
  • Ming Lian
  • Ningbin Hou
  • Yiyun Li
  • Shiming Zhu
  • Sune Svanberg
Enheter & grupper
Externa organisationer
  • South China Normal University
  • Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Arkeologi
  • Geofysik
TidskriftScientific Reports
Utgåva nummer1
StatusPublished - 2020
Peer review utfördJa