Sulfate addition increases methylmercury production in an experimental wetland

Jeff D. Jeremiason, Daniel R. Engstrom, Edward B. Swain, Edward A. Nater, Brian M. Johnson, James E. Almendinger, Bruce A. Monson, Randy K. Kolka

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Atmospheric mercury is the dominant Hg source to fish in northern Minnesota and elsewhere. However, atmospherically derived Hg must be methylated prior to accumulating in fish. Sulfate-reducing bacteria are thought to be the primary methylators of Hg in the environment. Previous laboratory and field mesocosm studies have demonstrated an increase in methylmercury (MeHg) levels in sediment and peatland porewaters following additions of sulfate. In the current ecosystem-scale study, sulfate was added to half of an experimental wetland at the Marcell Experimental Forest located in northeastern Minnesota, increasing annual sulfate load by approximately four times relative to the control half of the wetland. Sulfate was added on four separate occasions during 2002 and delivered via a sprinkler system constructed on the southeast half (1.0 ha) of the S6 experimental wetland. MeHg levels were monitored in porewater and in outflow from the wetland. Prior to the first sulfate addition, MeHg concentrations (filtered, 0.7 μm) were not statistically different between the control (0.47 ± 0.10 ng L-1, n = 12; mean ± one standard error) and experimental 0.52 ± 0.05 ng L-1, n = 18) halves. Following the first addition in May 2002, MeHg porewater concentrations increased to 1.63 ± 0.27 ng L-1 two weeks after the addition, a 3-fold increase. Subsequent additions in July and September 2002 did not raise porewater MeHg, but the applied sulfate was not observed in porewaters 24 h after addition. MeHg concentrations in outflow from the wetland also increased leading to an estimated 2.4x increase of MeHg flux from the wetland.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3800-3806
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2006


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