Mercury Concentrations in Fish and Sediment within Streams are Influenced by Watershed and Landscape Variables including Historical Gold Mining in the Sierra Nevada, California
Monday, 14 December 2015: 14:55
2010 (Moscone West)
We compiled available data on total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations in fish tissue and streambed sediment from stream sites in the Sierra Nevada, California, to assess whether spatial data, including information on historical mining, can be used to make robust predictions of fish fillet tissue THg concentrations. A total of 1,271 fish from five species collected at 103 sites during 1980–2012 were used for the modeling effort: 210 brown trout, 710 rainbow trout, 79 Sacramento pikeminnow, 93 Sacramento sucker, and 179 smallmouth bass. Sediment data were used from 73 sites, including 106 analyses of THg and 77 analyses of MeHg. The dataset included 391 fish (mostly rainbow trout) and 28 sediment samples collected explicitly for this study during 2011–12. Spatial data on historical mining included the USGS Mineral Resources Data System and publicly available maps and satellite photos showing the areas of hydraulic mine pits and other placer mines. Modeling was done using multivariate linear regression and multi-model inference using Akaike Information Criteria. Results indicate that fish THg, accounting for species and length, can be predicted using geospatial data on mining history together with other landscape characteristics including land use/land cover. A model requiring only geospatial data, with an R2 value of 0.61, predicted fish THg correctly with respect to over-or-under 0.2 µg/g wet weight (a California regulatory threshold) for 108 of 121 (89 %) size-species combinations tested. Data for THg in streambed sediment did not improve the geospatial-only model. However, data for sediment MeHg, loss on ignition (organic content), and percent of sediment less than 0.063 mm resulted in a slightly improved model, with an R2 value of 0.63. It is anticipated that these models will be useful to the State of California and others to predict areas where mercury concentrations in fish are likely to exceed regulatory criteria.