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Mercury and methylmercury in a reservoir during seasonal variation in hydrology and circulation

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journal contribution
posted on 11.02.2016 by Richard A. Wildman

This study explored the effect of seasonally varying inflow hydrology and circulation on total mercury (Hg) and methylmercury (MeHg) in the water column of a warm, temperate reservoir. The study site in Grand Lake, Oklahoma, is >80 km long and usually 36 m deep at its dam. During this study, aside from 2 large, storm-driven springtime events, drought caused low inflows. During maximal summer stratification, the surface mixed layer was 8–11 m thick, water below was anoxic, and inflows entered as an interflow. Total Hg in filtered samples was <4 ng/L with an interquartile range of 0.27–0.96 ng/L. Highest concentrations occurred in spring and summer, and lowest concentrations followed overturn. In filtered samples, MeHg was ≤0.62 ng/L with an interquartile range of 0.01–0.08 ng/L. Highest concentrations of MeHg occurred in some large inflows and in anoxic summertime bottom water in specific locations where total suspended sediment was also elevated. During this study, Hg concentrations in Grand Lake were driven by inflow hydrology when inflows were high. During low inflows, biogeochemistry controlled the enrichment of MeHg in specific locations of the anoxic bottom water and sequestered both Hg species in autumn. This sequestration suggests that Grand Lake decreases watershed-derived Hg pollution downstream. Occurrence of elevated Hg and MeHg concentrations primarily in large inflows and anoxic bottom water suggests that exposure of biota to Hg species is greatest when floods enter the reservoir because Hg enrichment in deep, anoxic water does not coincide with the habitat of most fauna.