We studied the partitioning of mercury (Hg) among air, water, sediments and fish at Little Rock Lake, a clear water seepage lake in north-central Wisconsin. The lake was divided with a sea curtain into two basins, one acidified with sulfuric acid to pH 5.6 for two years and the other an untreated reference site (mean pH 6.1), to document the effects of acidification. Trace-metal-free protocols were used to measure Hg at the picomolar level in air and water. Total gaseous Hg in air samples averaged 2.0 ng/m3. Total Hg in unfiltered water samples collected in 1986 after the fall overturn averaged about 1 ng/L in the acidified and reference basins. Mercury in surficial sediments was strongly correlated with volatile matter content and ranged from 10 to about 170 ng/g (dry weight) in both basins. Total Hg concentrations in whole, calendar age-1 yellow perch (Perca flavescens), sampled after one year of residence in the lake, averaged 114 ng/g (fresh weight) in the reference basin and 135 ng/g in the acidified basin – a highly significant (p < 0.01) difference. The mean whole-body burden (quantity) of Hg in age-1 perch did not differ between basins after the first year, but was significantly greater in the treatment basin than in the reference basin after the second year of acidification. Differences between the two basins in the bioaccumulation of Hg were attributed to internal (within-lake) processes that influence the bioavailability of the metal. An initial Hg budget for the treatment basin of Little Rock Lake showed that atmospheric deposition and sedimentary remobilization of Hg are potentially important processes influencing its biogeochemical cycling and uptake by fish.
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Partitioning and bioavailability of mercury in an experimentally acidified Wisconsin lake