Investigation of uptake and retention of atmospheric Hg(II) by boreal forest plants using stable Hg isotopes

Environmental Science & Technology
By: , and 



Although there is now a general consensus among mercury (Hg) biogeochemists that increased atmospheric inputs of inorganic Hg(II) to lakes and watersheds can result in increased methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations in fish, researchers still lack kinetic data describing the movement of Hg from the atmosphere, through watershed and lake ecosystems, and into fish. The use of isotopically enriched Hg species in environmental studies now allows experimentally applied new Hg to be distinguished from ambient Hg naturally present in the system. Four different enriched stable Hg(II) isotope “spikes” were applied sequentially over four years to the ground vegetation of a microcatchment at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in the remote boreal forest of Canada to examine retention of Hg(II) following deposition. Areal masses of the spikes and ambient THg (all forms of Hg in a sample) were monitored for eight years, and the pattern of spike retention was used to estimate retention of newly deposited ambient Hg within the ground vegetation pool. Fifty to eighty percent of applied spike Hg was initially retained by ground vegetation. The areal mass of spike Hg declined exponentially over time and was best described by a first-order process with constants (k) ranging between 9.7 × 10−4 day−1 and 11.6 × 10−4day−1. Average half-life (t1/2) of spike Hg within the ground vegetation pool (±S.D.) was 704 ± 52 days. This retention of new atmospheric Hg(II) by vegetation delays movement of new Hg(II) into soil, runoff, and finally into adjacent lakes. Ground-applied Hg(II) spikes were not detected in tree foliage and litterfall, indicating that stomatal and/or root uptake of previously deposited Hg (i.e., “recycled” from ground vegetation or soil Hg pools) were likely not large sources of foliar Hg under these experimental conditions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Investigation of uptake and retention of atmospheric Hg(II) by boreal forest plants using stable Hg isotopes
Series title Environmental Science & Technology
DOI 10.1021/es900357s
Volume 43
Issue 13
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher ACS
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 7 p.
First page 4960
Last page 4966