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Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Aug 1;41(15):5259-65.

Evidence for control of mercury accumulation rates in Canadian High Arctic lake sediments by variations of aquatic primary productivity.

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Geological Survey of Canada, 601 Booth Street, Ottawa K1A 0E8, Canada.


Climate warming in the 20th Century has had profound effects on the limnology of High Arctic lakes, including substantial increases in autochthonous primary productivity (APP). Here, we report organic carbon and Hg core profiles from two lakes which support the hypothesis that 20th Century increases in sedimentary Hg at these latitudes were largely driven by APP increases, via Hg scavenging by algae and/or suspended detrital algal matter. Hydrocarbons quantitatively released by thermal cracking of algal-derived organic matter ("S2" carbon) were used to reconstruct past APP. Variation of S2 flux accounted for 87-91% of the variance in total Hg flux in the study lakes since 1854. Mercury and S2 carbon were also associated during the pre-Industrial Period, co-varying by as much as 30% during past warm/cool periods. As a test of the hypothesis, predicted values for 20th Century [Hg] were derived from pre-1900 Hg-S2 relationships. Measured 20th Century [Hg] was on average only 6-11% higher than that predicted in one lake, and 33% higher in the other. S2-normalization of [Hg] in the latter lake suggested that 78% of the average increase in 20th Century [Hg] could be explained by scavenging. These findings suggest that the atmospheric contribution of long-range anthropogenic Hg to High Arctic lakes may have been overestimated by several-fold because of this climate-driven process, and was responsible for no more than 22% of the 20th Century [Hg] increase in the study lakes.

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