Changes in Mercury Deposition in a Mining and Smelting Region as Recorded in Tree Rings
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Metal mining and processing in the central Czech Republic has led to the contamination of surrounding soils and vegetation. In this study, Hg concentrations were measured in spruce (Picea abies L.) and beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) tree rings to monitor historical Hg deposition in the area. The highest Hg concentrations were found in spruce at an HgS smelting contaminated site (up to 15 ng g−1), probably reflecting smelting activities at the end of the nineteenth century. In the vicinity of a Pb smelter, Hg concentrations increased from the 1950s to maxima (up to 8.4 ng g−1) in the 1970s, corresponding with a peak of metallurgical production and smelter emissions in the mid 1970s. A decreasing trend in Hg concentrations since the 1980s was probably related to improvements in flue gas cleaning technologies. The beech trees, which grow at a site between two smelters and range in age from 150 to 220 years, seem to reflect deposition from both point sources. Mercury levels in beech trees were lower, that resulting from their greater distance from pollution sources, but the concentration trend was strongly correlated with metal production. Analysis of nutrient elements (Ca, Mg, K and Mn) in wood revealed environmental changes related to acid deposition, but a relation between concentration trends of nutrients and Hg was not found. This study shows that tree rings may be a good record of Hg deposition in areas affected by ore mining and smelting. Nevertheless, further investigation of Hg cycling in trees is necessary to satisfactorily interpret this particular historical Hg record.
KeywordsMercury Dendrochemistry Trees Geochemical archives Czech Republic
This research was funded by the grant of the Czech Science Foundation GAČR, (no. 526/09/P404) and the project of the Ministry of the Environment of the CR (SP/2d2/111/08). Long-term financial support was provided by the Institute of Geology of ASCR (project no. AV0Z30130516). We thank Dr. Zuzana Chládová, Institute of Atmospheric Physics ASCR for computing wind directions and Dr. Petr Skřivan for helpful comments on manuscript.
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