Have natural lake expansion and landscape inundation resulted in mercury increases in flooded lakes of the Great Slave Lowlands (Northwest Territories, Canada)?

Abstract

The inundation of terrestrial vegetation following landscape flooding is an important potential source of mercury to aquatic ecosystems, and may modify mercury cycling, such as through increased methylation. In the Great Slave Lowlands of Canada’s Northwest Territories, remarkable landscape flooding has occurred over the recent past, which is the most notable in at least the last several centuries. The potential for this flooding to increase inorganic mercury flux to the lakes of the region has not yet been explored. In this study we used sediment cores from five lakes experiencing a range of recently documented lake expansion to test whether inundation of terrestrial areas has increased the total mercury concentrations in sediments, and resulted in increased total mercury flux. Increases in sedimentary mercury concentrations and fluxes in sediment cores from the expanding lakes were relatively small and within the range of non-expanded systems, suggesting that, to date, flooding has not resulted in major total mercury enrichment, unlike in experimental and natural reservoir impoundments. The potential for increased methylation of existing inorganic mercury following expansion was not explored in this paper because methylmercury is dynamic in sediments and does not preserve well, but is an important consideration for future work.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the community of Fort Providence for their support, especially Louis Lacorne, Eric Nadli, and George Nadli, for assistance in the field. This research was funded by the Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program (Government of the Northwest Territories), the W. Garfield Weston Foundation (postdoctoral fellowship to JRT), the Brock University Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence (MFJP), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Discovery Grants to MFJP and JMB, Northern Supplement to MFJP and a PDF to JBK). We thank Dr. Jennifer Galloway for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Joshua R. Thienpont.

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Thienpont, J.R., Perreault, J.T., Korosi, J.B. et al. Have natural lake expansion and landscape inundation resulted in mercury increases in flooded lakes of the Great Slave Lowlands (Northwest Territories, Canada)?. J Paleolimnol 61, 345–354 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10933-018-0063-7

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Contaminants
  • Flooding
  • Lake sediments
  • Paleolimnology
  • Mercury