Anthropogenic Mercury Accumulation in Watersheds of the Northern Appalachian Mountains

Friday, 19 December 2014: 10:50 AM
Elizabeth W Boyer1, Patrick J Drohan1, Daniel Lawler1, Jeff Grimm1, Chris Grant1, Karin Josefina Eklof1, Jason Bennett2 and Michael D Naber2, (1)Pennsylvania State University Main Campus, University Park, PA, United States, (2)Pennsylvania State University Penn State Erie Behrend College, Erie, PA, United States
Atmospheric deposition of mercury (Hg) is a critical environmental stress that affects ecosystems and human health. Mercury emissions to the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants and other sources such as waste incineration can be deposited over large geographic areas to downwind landscapes in precipitation and in dry fallout. The northern Appalachian Mountains are downwind of major atmospheric mercury emissions sources. Some mercury reaches watersheds and streams, where it can accumulate in sediments and biota. Human exposure to mercury occurs primarily through fish consumption, and currently mercury fish eating advisories are in place for many of the streams and lakes in the region. Here, we explored mercury accumulation in forested landscapes - in air, soils, water, and biota. To quantify atmospheric mercury deposition, we measured both wet and dry mercury deposition at 10 forested locations, from which we present variation in mercury deposition and initial assessments of factors affecting the patterns. To quantify mercury accumulation in terrestrial environments, we measured soil mercury concentrations within and surrounding 12 vernal pools spanning various physiographic settings in the region. Given that vernal pools have large inputs of water via precipitation yet do not have any stream discharge outflow, they are likely spots within the forested landscape to accumulate pollutants that enter via wet atmospheric deposition. To quantify mercury accumulation in aquatic environments, we sampled mercury concentrations in streams draining 35 forested watersheds, spanning gradients of atmospheric deposition, climate and geology. Mercury concentrations were measured in stream water under base-flow conditions, in streambed sediments, aquatic mosses, and in fish tissues from brook trout. Results indicate that wet and dry atmospheric deposition is a primary source of mercury that is accumulating in watersheds of the Northern Appalachian Mountains.