Effects of Recent Human Colonization on the Presence of Mercury in Amazonian Ecosystems
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Three Hg sources were characterised and mass balance calculations were used to determine their relative contributions to the contamination of the Amazonian environment. About an order of magnitude more Hg is emitted to the atmosphere by goldmining activity than by the burning of forest biomass. However, anthropogenic atmospheric Hg cannot account for the high Hg burdens found in terrestrial ecosystems: deposition of Hg from goldmining sources is estimated to account for less than 3% of the Hg present in the surface horizons of soils. We propose that erosion of deforested soils following human colonization constitutes a major disturbance of the natural Hg cycle. Deforestation thus increases soil Hg mobilisation by runoff, which may explain the increase of Hg burdens in Amazonian aquatic ecosystems in newly colonized watersheds.
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