Some sources and sinks of monomethyl and inorganic mercury on ellesmere island in the canadian high arctic

Vincent L. St. Louis, Martin J. Sharp, Alexandra Steffen, Al May, Joel Barker, Jane L. Kirk, David J.A. Kelly, Shelley E. Arnott, Bronwyn Keatley, John P. Smol

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102 Scopus citations


We identified some of the sources and sinks of monomethyl mercury (MMHg) and inorganic mercury (HgII) on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic. Atmospheric Hg depletion events resulted in the deposition of Hg(II) into the upper layers of snowpacks, where concentrations of total Hg (all forms of Hg) reached over 20 ng/L. However, our data suggest that much of this deposited Hg(II) was rapidly photoreduced to Hg(0) which then evaded back to the atmosphere. As a result, we estimate that net wet and dry deposition of Hg(II) during winter was lower at our sites (0.4-5.9 mg/ha) than wet deposition in more southerly locations in Canada and the United States. We also found quite high concentrations of monomethyl Hg (MMHg) in snowpacks (up to 0.28 ng/L), and at times, most of the Hg in snowpacks was present as MMHg. On the Prince of Wales Icefield near the North Water Polynya, we observed a significant correlation between concentrations of Cl and MMHg in snow deposited in the spring, suggesting a marine source of MMHg. We hypothesize that dimethyl Hg fluxes from the ocean to the atmosphere through polynyas and open leads in ice, and is rapidly photolyzed to MMHg-Cl. We also found that concentrations of MMHg in initial snowmelt on John Evans Glacier (up to 0.24 ng/L) were higher than concentrations of MMHg in the snowpack (up to 0.11 ng/L), likely due to either sublimation of snow or preferential leaching of MMHg from snow during the initial melt phase. This springtime pulse of MMHg to the High Arctic, in conjunction with climate warming and the thinning and melting of sea ice, may be partially responsible for the increase in concentrations of Hg observed in certain Arctic marine mammals in recent decades. Concentrations of MMHg in warm and shallow freshwater ponds on Ellesmere Island were also quite high (up to 3.0 ng/L), leading us to conclude that there are very active regions of microbial Hg(II) methylation in freshwater systems during the short summer season in the High Arctic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2686-2701
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2005
Externally publishedYes


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