Mercury transport in response to storm events from a northern forest landscape

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Abstract

Concentrations and fluxes of mercury (Hg) species in surface waters of forested watersheds are affected by hydrological events. The mechanisms of Hg transport during these events are poorly understood and yet may influence Hg bioavailability and exposure to aquatic biota. Three storm events with varying magnitude and intensity were investigated (June, September and November 2005) at a forested watershed in the Adirondack region of New York State, USA. Concentrations of Hg species increased during these events, both above and downstream of wetlands in the watershed. While Hg flux was higher from wetland drainage, the Hg flux from the upland site exhibited a greater relative increase to elevated runoff. Hg flux was controlled by discharge; however, Hg species concentrations were not well correlated with discharge, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), or total suspended solids (TSS) through the duration of events. A counter-clockwise hysteresis response of DOC with increasing runoff contrasted with the clockwise response for total Hg, suggesting different contributions from source areas for these solutes. Correspondence with elevated total K and NO3− (α < 0.05) during the rising limb of the hydrograph suggests rapid delivery of throughfall Hg, potentially enhanced by hillslope hollows, to the stream channel. As the watershed saturated, stream Hg appears to be derived from the soil Hg pool. Results suggest that particulate Hg did not contribute substantially to total Hg flux during events (<25%). These results emphasize the role of watershed attributes and storm characteristics in Hg transport and bioavailability.

Supporting information may be found in the online version of this article.

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