Reconnaissance sampling of surface and subsurface sediment to a maximum depth of 80 m below the sea floor shows that typical values of 0.03 p.p.m. and anomalies of 0.2-1.3 p.p.m. mercury have been present in northeastern Bering Sea since Early Pliocene time. Values are highest in modern beach (maximum 1.3 and mean 0.22 p.p.m. Hg) and nearshore subsurface gravels (maximum 0.6 and mean 0.06 p.p.m. Hg) along the highly mineralized Seward Peninsula and in clayey silt rich in organic matter (maximum 0.16 and mean 0.10 p.p.m. Hg) throughout the region. Although gold mining may be partly responsible for high mercury levels in the modern beach near Nome, Alaska (maximum 0.45 p.p.m.), equally high or greater concentrations of mercury occur in buried Pleistocene sediments immediately offshore (maximum 0.6 p.p.m.) and in modern unpolluted beach sediments at Bluff (maximum 1.3 p.p.m.); this suggests that the contamination effects of mining may be no greater than natural concentration processes in the Seward Peninsula region. The mercury content of offshore surface sediment, even adjacent to mercury-rich beaches, corresponds to that of unpolluted marine and fresh-water sediment elsewhere. The normal values that prevail offshore may be attributable to entrapment of mercury-bearing heavy minerals on beaches near sources and/or dilution effects of offshore sedimentation. The few minor anomalies offshore occur in glacial drift derived from mercury source regions of Chukotka (Siberia) and Seward Peninsula; Pleistocene shoreline processes have reworked the drift to concentrate the heavy metals. The distribution pattern of mercury indicates that particulate mercury-bearing minerals have not been widely dispersed from onland deposits in quantities sufficient to increase mercury levels above normal in offshore sediments of Bering Sea; however, it shows that natural sedimentary processes can concentrate this mercury in beaches of the coastal zone where there already is concern because of potential pollution from man's activities.
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Mercury distribution in ancient and modern sediment of northeastern Bering Sea