J. Phys. IV France
Volume 107, May 2003
Page(s) 641 - 644

J. Phys. IV France
107 (2003) 641
DOI: 10.1051/jp4:20030385

Methyl mercury in Lake Superior: Offshore processes and bioaccumulation

J.P. Hurley1, 2, H. Manolopoulos2, C.L. Babiarz2, H. Sakamoto2, K.R. Rolfhus2, R.C. Back3, M.M. Shafer2, D.E. Armstrong2 and R. Harris4

1  University of Wisconsin, Aquatic Sciences Center, 1975 Willow Dr., Madison, Wl 53706, U.S.A.
2  University of Wisconsin, Environmental Chemistry and Technology Program, 660 N. Park St., Madison, WI 53706, U.S.A.
3  Lake Superior State University, Department of Biology, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783, U.S.A.
4  Tetra Tech Inc., 180 Forestwood Dr., Oakville, ON L6J 4E6, Canada

The effects of watershed type exert a strong influence on the speciation of mercury and the delivery of mercury to Lake Superior nearshore waters. As a consequence, tributary mixing zones are important locations for enhanced bioaccumulation in Lake Superior. Methyl Hg (MeHg) bioaccumulation, however, is also observed in regions of the lake that are remote from tributary influences. Three cruises aboard the USEPA vessel R/VLake Guardian on Lake Superior revealed that offshore concentrations of total mercury (HgT) were low, similar to Lake Michigan and oceanic waters (0.21 - 1.0 ng L -1 HgT). During August 2000, MeHg averaged 3.0 - 12.6 pg L -, at least an order of magnitude lower than most tributaries during typical flow régimes. Despite these differences, initial comparisons of phytoplankton revealed only a two to threefold enrichment of MeHg in tributary mixing zones versus offshore regions. MeHg inputs to the open waters of the lake are dependent on three processes: mixing from nearshore zones, direct atmospheric inputs and MeHg diffusion from sediments. Direct sedimentary methylation rates are extremely low and modeling efforts suggest that photodegradation would eliminate tributaryderived MeHg. Therefore, we conclude that atmospheric sources strongly influence MeHg uptake in offshore zones. A detailed profile at a deep-lake station in August 2001 suggests enhanced bioaccumulation at a subsurface chlorophyll maximum, in a zone with close contact to atmospheric fluxes.

© EDP Sciences 2003