Despite the ecological and economic importance of Great Salt Lake (GSL), little is known about the input and biogeochemical cycling of nutrients and trace elements in the lake. In response to increasing public concern regarding anthropogenic inputs to the GSL ecosystem, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initiated coordinated studies to quantify and evaluate the significance of nutrient and Hg inputs into GSL. A 6??? decrease in ??15N observed in brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) samples collected from GSL during summer time periods is likely due to the consumption of cyanobacteria produced in freshwater bays entering the lake. Supporting data collected from the outflow of Farmington Bay indicates decreasing trends in ??15N in particulate organic matter (POM) during the mid-summer time period, reflective of increasing proportions of cyanobacteria in algae exported to GSL on a seasonal basis. The C:N molar ratio of POM in outflow from Farmington Bay decreases during the summer period, supportive of the increased activity of N fixation indicated by decreasing ??15N in brine shrimp and POM. Although N fixation is only taking place in the relatively freshwater inflows to GSL, data indicate that influx of fresh water influences large areas of the lake. Separation of GSL into two distinct hydrologic and geochemical systems from the construction of a railroad causeway in the late 1950s has created a persistent and widespread anoxic layer in the southern part of GSL. This anoxic layer, referred to as the deep brine layer (DBL), has high rates of SO42 - reduction, likely increasing the Hg methylation capacity. High concentrations of methyl mercury (CH3Hg) (median concentration = 24 ng/L) were observed in the DBL with a significant proportion (31-60%) of total Hg in the CH3Hg form. Hydroacoustic and sediment-trap evidence indicate that turbulence introduced by internal waves generated during sustained wind events can temporarily mix the elevated CH3Hg concentrations in the DBL with the more biologically active upper brine layer (UBL). Brine shrimp collected during the summer/fall time periods contained elevated Hg concentrations (median concentration = 0.34 mg/kg, dry weight (dw)) relative to samples collected during the spring (median concentration < 0.2 mg/kg, dw). Higher Hg in brine shrimp during the summer and fall may reflect the higher proportion of adult brine shrimp during this time period, resulting in an increased time for bioaccumulation of Hg. Eared grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) consume brine shrimp from GSL during the fall molting period. Median Hg concentrations in eared grebe livers increased by almost three times during the 3-5 month fall molting period. Selected duck species utilizing GSL have consistently exceeded the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) screening level for Hg (0.3 mg/kg Hg wet weight), resulting in the issuance of warnings against unlimited human consumption of breast muscle tissue.
Additional Publication Details
Anthropogenic influences on the input and biogeochemical cycling of nutrients and mercury in Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA