Redox Chemistry in Minnesota Streams during Episodes of Increased Methylmercury Discharge

Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, St Paul, Minnesota 55106-6724, USA.
Environmental Science and Technology (Impact Factor: 5.33). 11/2004; 38(19):4921-7. DOI: 10.1021/es049696c
Source: PubMed


Mercury (Hg) and methylmercury (MeHg) are flushed from watersheds during hydrological events, contaminating downstream surface waters and resident fish populations. We monitored total mercury (THg), MeHg, and ancillary water chemistry parameters in two streams (Cedar Creek and Trott Brook) in east-central Minnesota on a weekly or semiweekly basis from April through October 2003. Heavy precipitation in late June resulted in discrete episodes of high concentrations (>1.2 ng/L) of MeHg in both streams in early July. The MeHg/THg ratio increased from 0.15 to 0.36 in Cedar Creek and from 0.13 to 0.46 in Trott Brook during the event. The high MeHg concentrations were accompanied by low dissolved oxygen concentrations and increased concentrations of dissolved organic carbon, Mn, Fe, and orthophosphate. A prolonged absence of precipitation during August and early September brought stream levels back to baseflow values, and MeHg concentrations decreased to less than 0.1 ng/L. These results suggest that warm-weather, high-discharge events are the primary route of export of MeHg from these watersheds, and baseflow contributes much less MeHg to downstream waters. The redox water chemistry during the,events sampled here suggests that MeHg in these streams is discharged from wetland areas where anoxic/anaerobic conditions prevail.

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    • "Sulfate-reducing bacteria and other anaerobic microorganisms convert Hg(II) to MeHg (Gilmour et al., 2013; Podar et al., 2015). In-stream measurements of MeHg during high flow events have been observed to coincide with low concentrations of molecular oxygen and increased concentrations of manganese and iron (Balogh et al., 2004; Regnell et al., 2009; Barringer et al., 2010), which suggests that the hydrologic flushing of reduced riparian soils may be the source of MeHg. Furthermore , several models that describe MeHg concentrations in streams use parameters based on riparian zone hydrology (i.e., hydrologic flow path, water table depth) (Burns et al., 2014; Eklӧf et al., 2015). "
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    ABSTRACT: Riparian soils are an important environment in the transport of mercury in rivers and wetlands, but the biogeochemical factors controlling mercury dynamics under transient redox conditions in these soils are not well understood. Mercury release and transformations in the Oa and underlying A horizons of a contaminated riparian soil were characterized in microcosms and an intact soil core under saturation conditions. Pore water dynamics of total mercury (HgT), methylmercury (MeHg), and dissolved gaseous mercury (Hg0(aq)) along with selected anions, major elements, and trace metals were characterized across redox transitions during 36 d of flooding in microcosms. Next, HgT dynamics were characterized over successive flooding (17 d), drying (28 d), and flooding (36 d) periods in the intact core. The observed mercury dynamics exhibit depth and temporal variability. At the onset of flooding in microcosms (1–3 d), mercury in the Oa horizon soil, present as a combination of ionic mercury (Hg(II)) bound to thiol groups in the soil organic matter (SOM) and nanoparticulate metacinnabar (β-HgS), was mobilized with organic matter of high molecular weight. Subsequently, under anoxic conditions, pore water HgT declined coincident with sulfate (3–11 d) and the proportion of nanoparticulate β-HgS in the Oa horizon soil increased slightly. Redox oscillations in the intact Oa horizon soil exhausted the mobile mercury pool associated with organic matter. In contrast, mercury in the A horizon soil, present predominantly as nanoparticulate β-HgS, was mobilized primarily as Hg0(aq) under strongly reducing conditions (5–18 d). The concentration of Hg0(aq) under dark reducing conditions correlated positively with byproducts of dissimilatory metal reduction (∑(Fe,Mn)). Mercury dynamics in intact A horizon soil were consistent over two periods of flooding, indicating that nanoparticulate β-HgS was an accessible pool of mobile mercury over recurrent reducing conditions. The concentration of MeHg increased with flooding time in both the Oa and A horizon pore waters. Temporal changes in pore water constituents (iron, manganese, sulfate, inorganic carbon, headspace methane) all implicate microbial control of redox transitions. The mobilization of mercury in multiple forms, including HgT associated with organic matter, MeHg, and Hg0(aq), to pore waters during periodic soil flooding may contribute to mercury releases to adjacent surface waters and the recycling of the legacy mercury to the atmosphere.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
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