US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Recent increases in atmospheric deposition of mercury to north-central Wisconsin lakes inferred from sediment analyses
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Profiles of total mercury (Hg) concentrations in sediments were examined in 11 lakes in north-central Wisconsin having a broad range of pH (5.1 to 7.8) and alkalinity (-12 to 769 μeq/L). Mercury concentrations were greatest in the top 15 cm of the cores and were much lower in the deeper strata. The Hg content in the most enriched stratum of individual cores ranged from 0.09 to 0.24 μg/g dry weight, whereas concentrations in deep, precolonial strata ranged from 0.04 to 0.07 μg/g. Sediment enrichment factors varied from 0.8 to 2.8 and were not correlated with lake pH. The increase in the Hg content of recent sediments was attributed to increased atmospheric deposition of the metal. Eight of the 11 systems studied were low-alkalinity lakes that presumably received most (\textgreater=90\%) of their hydrologic input from precipitation falling directly onto the lake surface. Thus, the sedimentary Hg in these lakes seems more likely linked to direct atmospheric deposition onto the lake surfaces than to influxes from the watershed. The data imply that a potentially significant fraction of the high Hg burdens measured in game fish in certain lakes in north-central Wisconsin originated from atmospheric sources.