A reconnaissance of surface and subsurface sediments to a maximum depth of 244 feet below the sea floor shows that natural mercury anomalies from 0.2 to 1.3 ppm have been present in northeastern Bering Sea since early Pliocene. The anomalies and mean values are highest in modern beach (maximum 1.3 and mean 0.22 ppm Hg) and nearshore subsurface gravels (maximum 0.6 and mean .06 ppm Hg) along the highly mineralized Seward Peninsula and in organic rich silt (maximum 0.16 and mean 0.10 ppm Hg) throughout the region; the mean values are lowest in offshore sands (0.03 ppm Hg) . Although gold mining may be partially responsible for high mercury levels in the beaches near Nome, Alaska, equally high or greater concentrations of mercury occur in ancient glacial sediments immediately offshore (0.6 ppm) and in modern unpolluted beach sediments at Bluff (0.45 - 1.3 ppm); this indicates that the contamination effects of mining may be no greater than natural concentration processes in the Seward Peninsula region. The background content of mercury (0.03) throughout the central area of northeastern Bering Sea is similar to that elsewhere in the world. The low mean values (0.04 ppm) even immediately offshore from mercury-rich beaches, suggests that in the surface sediments of northeastern Bering Sea, the highest concentrations are limited to the beaches near mercury sources; occasionally, however, low mercury anomalies occur offshore in glacial drift derived from mercury source regions of Chukotka and Seward Peninsula and reworked by Pleistocene shoreline processes. The minimal values offshore may be attributable to beach entrapment of heavy minerals containing mercury and/or dilution effects of modern sedimentation.
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USGS Numbered Series
Mercury distribution in ancient and modern sediments of northeastern Bering Sea