Volcanic mercury in Pinus canariensis


Mercury (Hg) is a toxic element that is emitted to the atmosphere by both human activities and natural processes. Volcanic emissions are considered a natural source of mercury in the environment. In some cases, tree ring records taken close to volcanoes and their relation to volcanic activity over time are contradictory. In 1949, the Hoyo Negro volcano (La Palma-Canary Islands) produced significant pyroclastic flows that damaged the nearby stand of Pinus canariensis. Recently, 60 years after the eruption, we assessed mercury concentrations in the stem of a pine which survived volcano formation, located at a distance of 50 m from the crater. We show that Hg content in a wound caused by pyroclastic impacts (22.3 μg kg−1) is an order of magnitude higher than the Hg concentrations measured in the xylem before and after the eruption (2.3 μg kg−1). Thus, mercury emissions originating from the eruption remained only as a mark—in pyroclastic wounds—and can be considered a sporadic and very high mercury input that did not affect the overall Hg input in the xylem. In addition, mercury contents recorded in the phloem (9.5 μg kg−1) and bark (6.0 μg kg−1) suggest that mercury shifts towards non-living tissues of the pine, an aspect that can be related to detoxification in volcanism-adapted species.

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We are grateful for the financial assistance provided by the Spanish Ministry of Innovation through Projects AGL2009-10606 and JC2010-0109. We are also grateful for Project CGL2009-14686-C02-02. The authors thank Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Associate Editor of Naturwissenschaften, for the improvements and corrections made in this manuscript.

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Correspondence to José Antonio Rodríguez Martín.

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Communicated by: Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand

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Damage caused by the San Juan eruption on La Palma Island, movie footage: “La Palma en la Memoria 1949”. The San Juan eruption that formed the Hoyo Negro volcano in June 1949, and details of damage to the pine grove. This video (RTVE), recorded a few days after the eruption, shows the effect of the pyroclastic flows on pine trees. (MPG 15406 kb)


Damage caused by the San Juan eruption on La Palma Island, movie footage: “La Palma en la Memoria 1949”. The San Juan eruption that formed the Hoyo Negro volcano in June 1949, and details of damage to the pine grove. This video (RTVE), recorded a few days after the eruption, shows the effect of the pyroclastic flows on pine trees. (MPG 15406 kb)

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Rodríguez Martín, J.A., Nanos, N., Miranda, J.C. et al. Volcanic mercury in Pinus canariensis . Naturwissenschaften 100, 739–747 (2013).

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  • Mercury
  • Volcano
  • La Palma Island
  • Tree rings
  • Bioindicator