The Influence of Coastal Wetland Zonation on Surface Sediment and Porewater Mercury Speciation

Friday, 19 December 2014
Mark C Marvin-DiPasquale1, Lisamarie Windham-Myers1, Alicia Marie Wilson2, Tracy Buck3 and Erik Smith3, (1)U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, United States, (2)University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, United States, (3)University of South Carolina, Baruch Institute for Marine & Coastal Sciences, Georgetown, SC, United States
An investigation of mercury (Hg) speciation in saltmarsh surface sediment (top 0-2 cm) and porewater (integrated 0-50 cm) was conducted along two monitoring well transects established within North Inlet Estuary (S. Carolina, USA) as part of the NOAA sponsored National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) network. Transects were perpendicular to the shoreline, from the forested uplands to the edge of the tidal channel, and traversed a range of vegetated zones from the high marsh (pickleweed, rush, and salt panne-dominated) to the low marsh (cordgrass dominated), as mediated by elevation and tidal inundation. Sediment grain size and organic content explained 95% of the variability in the distribution of total Hg (THg) in surface sediment. Tin-reducible ‘reactive’ mercury (HgR) concentration was 10X greater in the high marsh, compared to the low marsh, and increased sharply with decreasing sediment pH values below pH=6. The percentage of THg as HgR decreased as sediment redox conditions became more reducing. There were no significant differences in surface sediment methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations between high and low marsh zones. In contrast, porewater MeHg concentrations were 5X greater in the high marsh compared to the low marsh. As a percentage of THg, mean porewater %MeHg was 23% in the low marsh and 51% in the high marsh, reaching levels of 73–89% in a number of high marsh sites. Calculations of partitioning between porewater and the solid phase suggest stronger binding to particles in the low marsh and a shift towards the dissolved phase in the high marsh for both THg and MeHg. These results are consistent with a conceptual model for coastal wetlands where the less frequently inundated high marsh zone may be important in terms of MeHg production and enhanced subsurface mobilization, partially due to the subsurface mixing of saline estuarine water and freshwater draining in from the uplands area.