Spatiotemporal patterns of mercury accumulation in lake sediments of western North America

Paul E. Drevnick, Colin A. Cooke, Daniella Barraza, Jules M. Blais, Kenneth H. Coale, Brian F. Cumming, Chris J. Curtis, Biplob Das, William F. Donahue, Collin A. Eagles-Smith, Daniel R. Engstrom, William F. Fitzgerald, Chad V. Furl, John E. Gray, Roland I. Hall, Togwell A. Jackson, Kathleen R. Laird, W. Lyle Lockhart, Robie W. Macdonald, M. Alisa MastCallie Mathieu, Derek C.G. Muir, Peter M. Outridge, Scott A. Reinemann, Sarah E. Rothenberg, Ana Carolina Ruiz-Fernández, Vincent L.St Louis, Rhea D. Sanders, Hamed Sanei, Elliott K. Skierszkan, Peter C. Van Metre, Timothy J. Veverica, Johan A. Wiklund, Brent B. Wolfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


For the Western North America Mercury Synthesis, we compiled mercury records from 165 dated sediment cores from 138 natural lakes across western North America. Lake sediments are accepted as faithful recorders of historical mercury accumulation rates, and regional and sub-regional temporal and spatial trends were analyzed with descriptive and inferential statistics. Mercury accumulation rates in sediments have increased, on average, four times (4 ×) from 1850 to 2000 and continue to increase by approximately 0.2 μg/m2 per year. Lakes with the greatest increases were influenced by the Flin Flon smelter, followed by lakes directly affected by mining and wastewater discharges. Of lakes not directly affected by point sources, there is a clear separation in mercury accumulation rates between lakes with no/little watershed development and lakes with extensive watershed development for agricultural and/or residential purposes. Lakes in the latter group exhibited a sharp increase in mercury accumulation rates with human settlement, stabilizing after 1950 at five times (5 ×) 1850 rates. Mercury accumulation rates in lakes with no/little watershed development were controlled primarily by relative watershed size prior to 1850, and since have exhibited modest increases (in absolute terms and compared to that described above) associated with (regional and global) industrialization. A sub-regional analysis highlighted that in the ecoregion Northwestern Forest Mountains, < 1% of mercury deposited to watersheds is delivered to lakes. Research is warranted to understand whether mountainous watersheds act as permanent sinks for mercury or if export of “legacy” mercury (deposited in years past) will delay recovery when/if emissions reductions are achieved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1157-1170
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Oct 15 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was conducted as part of the Western North American Mercury Synthesis Working Group supported by the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey. U.S. EPA Region-10 RARE provided funding for GIS layer gathering by EPA contractors and for GIS support from Michael Tate and Michelle Lutz at the Wisconsin Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Chris Eckley, U.S. EPA Region 10, provided data from the Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment Project. Benjamin Barst, INRS-ETE, helped compile data. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Appendix A

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • Lake
  • Mercury
  • Sediment
  • Western North America


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