Watershed influences on mercury in tributaries to Lake Ontario

  • Joseph S. Denkenberger
  • Habibollah Fakhraei
  • Brian Branfireun
  • Mario Montesdeoca
  • Charles T. DriscollEmail author


Mercury (Hg) concentrations and speciation were measured in nine tributaries to Lake Ontario as part of two independent field-sampling programs. Among the study tributaries, mean total Hg (THg) concentrations ranged from 0.9 to 2.6 ng/L; mean dissolved Hg (THgD) ranged from 0.5 to 1.5 ng/L; mean particulate Hg (THgP) ranged from 0.3 to 2.0 ng/L; and mean methylmercury (MeHg) ranged from 0.06 to 0.14 ng/L. Watershed land cover, total suspended solids (TSS), and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) were evaluated as potential controls of tributary Hg. Significant relationships between THgD and DOC were limited, whereas significant relationships between THgP and TSS were common across watersheds. Total suspended solids was strongly correlated with the percentage of agricultural land in watersheds. Particle enrichment of Hg (mass Hg/mass TSS) was highly variable, but distinctly higher in US tributaries likely due to higher TSS in Canadian tributaries associated with higher urban and agricultural land cover. MeHg was largely associated with the aqueous phase, and MeHg as a fraction of THg was positively correlated to percent open water coverage in the watershed. Wetland cover was positively correlated to THg and MeHg concentrations, while urban land cover was only related to higher THgP.


Lake Ontario Mercury Land cover Watershed 



This research was supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and the Syracuse Center of Excellence through the CARTI program. Partial funding for this work was provided by the Wen-Hsiung and Kuan-Ming Li Graduate Fellowship. Field and laboratory support was provided by Mario Montesdeoca at Syracuse University and Tracie Greenberg, Tom Ulanowski, Britney Meyers, and Geoff Stupple at the University of Toronto. Ram Yerubandi at Environment Canada and Tony Zhang at the University of Toronto aided in development of discharge estimates for the Trent River. Mark Gravelding and Alain Hebert, both of ARCADIS U.S., Inc., provided additional support for manuscript development. Edward Mason was an early contributor to the work.


This research was supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and the Syracuse Center of Excellence through the CARTI program EPA X-83232501-0.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary Information


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering151 Link Hall, Syracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology and Centre for Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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