Mercury Cycling in an Urbanized Watershed: The Influence of Wind Distribution and Regional Subwatershed Geometry in Central Indiana, USA
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The global cycle of mercury (Hg) is reasonably well-understood, as are some of the natural and anthropogenic sources of Hg to the atmosphere. Less well understood are the regional and local characteristics of Hg deposition and subsequent watershed-scale transport, important parameters for assessing human risk to various avenues of Hg exposure. This study employed a two-part strategy for understanding coupled deposition and transport processes in central Indiana (USA), including Indianapolis, a typical large city with multiple coal-fired electric utilities and other Hg emission sources. A spatial analysis of Hg concentrations in surface soils revealed elevated Hg proximal to many of the large emission sources, with a distribution aligned along a southwest-northeast axis corresponding to the mean wind direction in this region. This soil distribution suggests some local depositional impact from local utilities, with wind modification affecting the regional pattern. Post-depositional transport of Hg was assessed using a series of streambank sampling arrays as the White River and various tributaries travelled through the urban core of Indianapolis. Streambank sediments had peak Hg concentrations in the urban core, where several local sources are present and where a number of subwatersheds join the main trunk of the White River, suggesting local emission and/or rapid Hg transport from urban subwatersheds due to their relatively high proportion of impervious surfaces. High Hg values persist in White River sediments into rural areas tens of kilometers south of Indianapolis, raising concerns for anglers collecting fish in this apparently “pristine” environment.
KeywordsMercury Urban geochemistry Airborne transport Power generation Riparian Watershed
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