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Mercury accumulation and attenuation at a rapidly forming delta with a point source of mining waste.


ABSTRACT: The Walker Creek intertidal delta of Tomales Bay, California is impacted by a former mercury mine within the watershed. Eleven short sediment cores (10 cm length) collected from the delta found monomethylmercury (MMHg) concentrations ranging from 0.3 to 11.4 ng/g (dry wt.), with lower concentrations occurring at the vegetated marsh and upstream channel locations. Algal mats common to the delta's sediment surface had MMHg concentrations ranging from 7.5 to 31.5 ng/g, and the top 1 cm of sediment directly under the mats had two times greater MMHg concentrations compared to adjacent locations without algal covering. Spatial trends in resident biota reflect enhanced MMHg uptake at the delta compared to other bay locations. Eighteen sediment cores, 1 to 2 m deep, collected from the 1.2 km2 delta provide an estimate of a total mercury (Hg) inventory of 2500+/-500 kg. Sediment Hg concentrations ranged from pre-mining background conditions of approximately 0.1 microg/g to a post-mining maximum of 5 microg/g. Sediment accumulation rates were determined from three sediment cores using measured differences of (137)Cs activity. We estimate a pre-mining Hg accumulation of less than 20 kg/yr, and a period of maximum Hg accumulation in the 1970s and 1980s with loading rates greater than 50 kg/yr, corresponding to the failure of a tailings dam at the mine site. At the time of sampling (2003) over 40 kg/yr of Hg was still accumulating at the delta, indicating limited recovery. We attribute observed spatial evolution of elevated Hg levels to ongoing inputs and sediment re-working, and estimate the inventory of the anthropogenic fraction of total Hg to be at least 1500+/-300 kg. We suggest ongoing sediment inputs and methylation at the deltaic surface support enhanced mercury levels for resident biota and transfer to higher trophic levels throughout the Bay.

SUBMITTER: Johnson BE 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC2747606 | BioStudies | 2009-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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