Comparison of Mercury Mass Loading in Streams to Wet and Dry Atmospheric Deposition in Watersheds of the Western US: Evidence for Non-Atmospheric Mercury Sources
Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Many streams in the western United States (US) are listed as impaired by mercury (Hg), and it is important to understand the magnitudes of the various sources in order to implement management strategies. Atmospheric deposition of Hg and can be a major source of aquatic contamination, along with mine wastes, and other sources. Prior studies in the eastern US have shown that streams deliver less than 50% of the atmospherically deposited Hg on an annual basis. In this study, we compared annual stream Hg loads for 20 watersheds in the western US to measured wet and modeled dry deposition. Land use varies from undisturbed to mixed (agricultural, urban, forested, mining). Data from the Mercury Deposition Network was used to estimate Hg input from precipitation. Dry deposition was not directly measured, but can be modeled using the Community Multi-scale Air Quality model. At an undeveloped watershed in the Rocky Mountains, the ratio of stream Hg load to atmospheric deposition was 0.2 during a year of average precipitation. In contrast, at the Carson River in Nevada, with known Hg contamination from historical silver mining with Hg amalgamation, stream export exceeded atmospheric deposition by a factor of 60, and at a small Sierran watershed with gold mining, the ratio was 70. Larger watersheds with mixed land uses, tend to have lower ratios of stream export relative to atmospheric deposition suggesting storage of Hg. The Sacramento River was the largest watershed for which Hg riverine loads were available with an average ratio of stream Hg export to atmospheric deposition of 0.10. Although Hg was used in upstream historical mining operations, the downstream river Hg load is partially mitigated by reservoirs, which trap sediment. This study represents the first compilation of riverine Hg loads in comparison to atmospheric deposition on a regional scale; the approach may be useful in assessing the relative importance of atmospheric and non-atmospheric Hg sources.