Horizontal and vertical variability of mercury species in pore water and sediments in small lakes in Ontario

Tianrong He, Julia Lu, Fan Yang, Xinbin Feng
Science of the Total Environment 2007 November 1, 386 (1): 53-64
Mary Lake, St. George Lake, and Philips Lake are located in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada. These lakes are relatively small and have no direct inflow and outflow channels. Mercury (Hg) input to the lakes comes mainly from atmospheric deposition. Sediment cores from the points of the maximum lake depth and surface sediment samples from the points of maximum lake depth to the bank of each lake were collected in October 2005. Total and methyl mercury concentrations in the pore water and sediments of these samples were determined. In these small lakes with high organic content, there was no correlation between organic content and total mercury (THg) in the samples throughout the entire sediment cores while strong positive correlation between these two parameters was observed in all the surface sediments. Compared with typical methylmercury (MeHg) depth-profiles of sediment cores in other studies, where MeHg concentrations and methylation rates decreased sharply with increasing depth, MeHg distributions in the sediment cores in this study showed that MeHg might have been produced not only in the upper sediment but also in the deeper sediments, which resulted in a larger MeHg reservoir in the sediment. Organic matter, to some extent, affected MeHg distributions in the samples throughout the entire sediment cores. Concentrations of MeHg in all the surface sediments, however, were not controlled by organic matter, whereas they were largely a function of water column depths. Total mercury concentrations in pore water were relatively homogenous in both the sediment cores and surface sediment while MeHg in pore water generally deceased with increasing depth in the sediment cores and increasing distance from the centre of the lakes in surface sediments. Methylmercury contributed 1% to 76% of THg in the pore water samples. Concentrations and distributions of MeHg in overlying water and sediment-surface water in Mary Lake and St. George Lake suggested that both in situ production of MeHg in lake water and the release of MeHg from sediment contributed to high MeHg in deep anoxic water.

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