Anthropogenic Mercury Enrichment in Remote Lakes of Northern Québec (Canada)

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In a sub-Arctic region of the province of Québec, at sites situated 200 to 1400 km away from the closest industrial centers, we find the ubiquitous presence of anthropogenic Hg, reflected by steadily increasing concentrations of this metal in lake sediments, since about 1940, to rates averaging 2.3 times the preindustrial levels. Mercury concentrations in lake sediments were found to be proportional to the amounts of terrestrial organic carbon from the catchment area. It would, therefore, be misleading to derive continental-scale gradients of this pollutant based on Hg concentrations in oligotrophic lake sediments, unless they are normalized to their organic carbon content. Our normalized data for sediments of remote lakes along a 1200 km transect (45 to 55°N) clearly indicate that the distribution pattern of long-range Hg contamination is independent of the latitude over the boreal forest domain. This uniform contamination contrasts with that of Pb, which decreases towards the north over the same latitudinal span, away from the industrial centers of the St Lawrence Valley and the U.S. Mid-West.