, Volume 164, Issue 1-4, pp 21-42

Mercury Transport in a High-Elevation Watershed in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

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Abstract

Mercury (Hg) was measured in stream water and precipitation in the Loch Vale watershed in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, during 2001–2002 to investigate processes controlling Hg transport in high-elevation ecosystems. Total Hg concentrations in precipitation ranged from 2.6 to 36.2 ng/L and showed a strong seasonal pattern with concentrations that were 3 to 4 times higher during summer months. Annual bulk deposition of Hg was 8.3 to 12.4 μ g/m2 and was similar to deposition rates in the Midwestern and Northeastern U.S. Total Hg concentrations in streams ranged from 0.8 to 13.5 ng/L and were highest in mid-May on the rising limb of the snowmelt hydrograph. Stream-water Hg was positively correlated with dissolved organic carbon suggesting organically complexed Hg was flushed into streams from near-surface soil horizons during the early stages of snowmelt. Methylmercury (MeHg) in stream water peaked at 0.048 ng/L just prior to peak snowmelt but was at or below detection (< 0.040 ng/L) for the remainder of the snowmelt season. Annual export of total Hg in Loch Vale streams ranged from 1.2 to 2.3 μ g/m2, which was less than 20% of wet deposition, indicating the terrestrial environment is a net sink of atmospheric Hg. Concentrations of MeHg in stream water and corresponding watershed fluxes were low, indicating low methylation rates or high demethylation rates or both.