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Sci Total Environ. 2006 Sep 1;368(1):19-29. Epub 2006 Jun 16.

Mercury release from deforested soils triggered by base cation enrichment.

Author information

1
Institut des sciences de l'environnement, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888 Succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada. nicolinafarella@yahoo.ca

Abstract

The Brazilian Amazon has experienced considerable colonization in the last few decades. Family agriculture based on slash-and-burn enables millions of people to live in that region. However, the poor nutrient content of most Amazonian soils requires cation-rich ashes from the burning of the vegetation biomass for cultivation to be successful, which leads to forest ecosystem degradation, soil erosion and mercury contamination. While recent studies have suggested that mercury present in soils was transferred towards rivers upon deforestation, little is known about the dynamics between agricultural land-use and mercury leaching. In this context, the present study proposes an explanation that illustrates how agricultural land-use triggers mercury loss from soils. This explanation lies in the competition between base cations and mercury in soils which are characterized by a low adsorption capacity. Since these soils are naturally very poor in base cations, the burning of the forest biomass suddenly brings high quantities of base cations to soils, destabilizing the previous equilibrium amongst cations. Base cation enrichment triggers mobility in soil cations, rapidly dislocating mercury atoms. This conclusion comes from principal component analyses illustrating that agricultural land-use was associated with base cation enrichment and mercury depletion. The overall conclusions highlight a pernicious cycle: while soil nutrient enrichment actually occurs through biomass burning, although on a temporary basis, there is a loss in Hg content, which is leached to rivers, entering the aquatic chain, and posing a potential health threat to local populations. Data presented here reflects three decades of deforestation activities, but little is known about the long-term impact of such a disequilibrium. These findings may have repercussions on our understanding of the complex dynamics of deforestation and agriculture worldwide.

PMID:
16781764
DOI:
10.1016/j.scitotenv.2006.04.025
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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