The effect of sediment mixing on mercury dynamics in two intertidal mudflats at Great Bay Estuary, New Hampshire, USA.
ABSTRACT: Estuarine sediments store particulate contaminants including mercury (Hg). We studied Hg sediment dynamics in two intertidal mudflats at Great Bay estuary, NH, over multiple years. Sediments at both mudflats were physically mixed down to ~10 cm, as determined by (7)Be measurements, albeit via different mechanisms. Portsmouth mudflat (PT) sediments were subject to bioturbation by infaunal organisms and Squamscott mudflat (SQ) sediments were subject to erosion and redeposition. The presence of higher concentrations of fresh Fe(III) hydroxide at PT suggested bioirrigation by the polychaetes (Nereis virens). At depths where infaunal bioirrigation was observed, pore-water inorganic Hg (Hgi) and methylmercury (MeHg) were lower potentially due to their interaction with Fe(III) hydroxide. Methylmercury concentrations increased immediately below this zone in some samples, suggesting that the observed increase in material flux in bioirrigated sediments may initiate from lower depths. Pore water in sediment at PT also had higher fractions of more protein-like and labile DOC than those at SQ that can lead to increased MeHg production in PT, especially at depths where Hgi is not removed from solution by Fe(III) hydroxide. Where sediment erosion and redeposition were observed at SQ, Hg species distribution was extended deeper into the sediment column. Moreover, methyl coenzyme M reductase (MCR) and mercury reductase (mer-A) genes were higher at SQ than PT suggesting differences in conditions for Hg cycling. Results showed that the near-surface region of high MeHg concentrations commonly observed in unmixed sediments does not exist in physically mixed sediments that are common in many estuarine environments.
Project description:Coastal sediments are an important site for transient and long-term mercury (Hg) storage, and they foster a geochemical environment optimal for Hg methylation. Therefore, efforts have been taken to constrain the role of sediments as a source of methylmercury (MeHg) to the estuarine water column. This study employed the Gust Microcosm Erosion Core system capable of quantifying particle removal from undisturbed cores under measurable shear stress conditions to assess particulate Hg and MeHg exchange between sediments and the water column. Samples were collected from organic-rich and organic-poor sediment types from the mid- and lower Delaware Bay. It was found that bulk sediment samples from organic-rich systems overpredict total Hg and MeHg release to the water column, whereas organic-poor sediments underpredict the exchange. In general, organic-rich sediments in shallow environments have the most impact on surface particle dynamics. There is little evidence to suggest that MeHg formed in the sediments is released to the water column via particulate exchange, and therefore, nonsedimentary sources likely control MeHg levels in this estuarine water column.
Project description:Marine food webs are important links between Hg in the environment and human exposure via consumption of fish. Estuaries contain sediment repositories of Hg and are also critical habitat for marine fish and shellfish species consumed by humans. MeHg biotransfers from sites of production in estuarine sediments to higher trophic levels via both benthic and pelagic pathways. In this study, we investigated the potential for Hg biotransfer to estuarine food webs across a Hg contamination gradient in the Gulf of Maine. Despite the variation in sediment Hg concentrations across sites (>100 fold), Hg concentrations in biota ranged by only 2-4 fold for each species across sites. Sediment contamination alone explained some variation in Hg and MeHg concentrations in biota across sites. However, biogeochemical and ecological factors also explained significant variation in Hg bioaccumulation across species. Contaminated sites had higher total organic carbon concentrations in sediments, which related to a decrease in Hg bioaccumulation (measured as biota-sediment concentration factors). Moreover, concentrations of MeHg were higher in pelagic-feeding than benthic-feeding fauna (determined from delta13C), indicating the importance of pelagic pathways in transferring MeHg. Lastly, the proportion of total Hg as MeHg increased with trophic level (measured as delta15N). These results reveal the importance of both biogeochemical and ecological factors in determining the bioavailability and trophic transfer of MeHg in estuarine food webs.
Project description:Reservoirs typically have elevated fish mercury (Hg) levels compared to natural lakes and rivers. A unique feature of reservoirs is water-level management which can result in sediment exposure to the air. The objective of this study is to identify how reservoir water-level fluctuations impact Hg cycling, particularly the formation of the more toxic and bioaccumulative methylmercury (MeHg). Total-Hg (THg), MeHg, stable isotope methylation rates and several ancillary parameters were measured in reservoir sediments (including some in porewater and overlying water) that are seasonally and permanently inundated. The results showed that sediment and porewater MeHg concentrations were over 3-times higher in areas experiencing water-level fluctuations compared to permanently inundated sediments. Analysis of the data suggest that the enhanced breakdown of organic matter in sediments experiencing water-level fluctuations has a two-fold effect on stimulating Hg methylation: 1) it increases the partitioning of inorganic Hg from the solid phase into the porewater phase (lower log Kd values) where it is more bioavailable for methylation; and 2) it increases dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the porewater which can stimulate the microbial community that can methylate Hg. Sulfate concentrations and cycling were enhanced in the seasonally inundated sediments and may have also contributed to increased MeHg production. Overall, our results suggest that reservoir management actions can have an impact on the sediment-porewater characteristics that affect MeHg production. Such findings are also relevant to natural water systems that experience wetting and drying cycles, such as floodplains and ombrotrophic wetlands.
Project description:Sediments represent the main reservoir of mercury (Hg) in aquatic environments and may act as a source of Hg to aquatic food webs. Yet, accumulation routes of Hg from the sediment to benthic organisms are poorly constrained. We studied the bioaccumulation of inorganic and methylmercury (Hg<sup>II</sup> and MeHg, respectively) from different geochemical pools of Hg into four groups of benthic invertebrates (amphipods, polychaetes, chironomids, and bivalves). The study was conducted using mesocosm experiments entailing the use of multiple isotopically enriched Hg tracers and simulation of estuarine systems with brackish water and sediment. We applied different loading regimes of nutrients and terrestrial organic matter and showed that the vertical localization and the chemical speciation of Hg<sup>II</sup> and MeHg in the sediment, in combination with the diet composition of the invertebrates, consistently controlled the bioaccumulation of Hg<sup>II</sup> and MeHg into the benthic organisms. Our results suggest a direct link between the concentration of MeHg in the pelagic planktonic food web and the concentration of MeHg in benthic amphipods and, to some extent, in bivalves. In contrast, the quantity of MeHg in benthic chironomids and polychaetes seems to be driven by MeHg accumulation via the benthic food web. Accounting for these geochemical and dietary drivers of Hg bioaccumulation in benthic invertebrates will be important to understand and predict Hg transfer between the benthic and the pelagic food web, under current and future environmental scenarios.
Project description:Methylmercury (MeHg) affects wildlife and human health mainly through marine fish consumption. In marine systems, MeHg is formed from inorganic mercury (Hg(II)) species primarily in sediments, then accumulates and biomagnifies in the food web. Most of the fish consumed in the United States are from estuarine and marine systems, highlighting the importance of understanding MeHg formation in these productive regions. Sediment organic matter has been shown to limit mercury methylation in estuarine ecosystems, as a result it is often described as the primary control over MeHg production. In this paper, we explore the role of organic matter by looking at the effects of its changing sediment concentrations on the methylation rates across multiple estuaries. We measured sedimentary MeHg production at eleven estuarine sites that were selected for their contrasting biogeochemical characteristics, mercury (Hg) content, and location in the Northeastern U.S. (ME, NH, CT, NY, and NJ). Sedimentary total Hg concentrations ranged across 5 orders of magnitude, increasing in concentration from the pristine, sandy sediments of Wells (ME), to industrially contaminated areas such as Portsmouth (NH) and Hackensack (NJ). We find that methylation rates are the highest at locations with high Hg content (relative to carbon), and that organic matter does not hinder mercury methylation in estuaries.
Project description:Development of an in situ passive sampler for mercury (Hg), and its toxic form, methylmercury (MeHg), using simple polymer films, was explored for the potential to make an efficient and environmentally relevant monitoring tool for this widespread aquatic pollutant. The sulfur-containing polymers polysulfone (PS), and polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), were found to accumulate both MeHg and inorganic Hg (iHg), whereas polyethylene (PE) sorbed iHg but not MeHg, and polyoxymethylene (POM) and polyethersulfone (PES) films had low affinity for both Hg species. Uptake rates of Hg species into polymers were linear over two weeks, and dissolved organic matter at natural levels had no effect on partitioning of MeHg or iHg to the polymers. Sorption of MeHg to PS and PPS from three estuarine sediments correlated with uptake into diffusive gel-type samplers over time, and in PPS, with accumulation by the estuarine amphipod, Leptocheirus plumulosus. These polymers had lower MeHg adsorption rates, but are simpler to assemble, than diffusive gel-type samplers. Higher contaminant concentrations in polymer and gel-type samplers corresponded with porewater concentrations across sediments, suggesting they sample the dissolved MeHg pool, whereas MeHg levels in amphipods were more elevated with higher bulk sediment MeHg, which may reflect feeding strategy. While polymers with higher affinity for MeHg and iHg are needed for some environmental applications, this work suggests a simple sampling approach has potential for time-integrated, environmentally-meaningful MeHg monitoring in contaminated sediments.
Project description:Spatial variation in mercury (Hg) and methylmercury (MeHg) bioaccumulation in urban coastal watersheds reflects complex interactions between Hg sources, land use, and environmental gradients. We examined MeHg concentrations in fauna from the Delaware River estuary, and related these measurements to environmental parameters and human impacts on the waterway. The sampling sites followed a north to south gradient of increasing salinity, decreasing urban influence, and increasing marsh cover. Although mean total Hg in surface sediments (top 4cm) peaked in the urban estuarine turbidity maximum and generally decreased downstream, surface sediment MeHg concentrations showed no spatial patterns consistent with the examined environmental gradients, indicating urban influence on Hg loading to the sediment but not subsequent methylation. Surface water particulate MeHg concentration showed a positive correlation with marsh cover whereas dissolved MeHg concentrations were slightly elevated in the estuarine turbidity maximum region. Spatial patterns of MeHg bioaccumulation in resident fauna varied across taxa. Small fish showed increased MeHg concentrations in the more urban/industrial sites upstream, with concentrations generally decreasing farther downstream. Invertebrates either showed no clear spatial patterns in MeHg concentrations (blue crabs, fiddler crabs) or increasing concentrations further downstream (grass shrimp). Best-supported linear mixed models relating tissue concentration to environmental variables reflected these complex patterns, with species specific model results dominated by random site effects with a combination of particulate MeHg and landscape variables influencing bioaccumulation in some species. The data strengthen accumulating evidence that bioaccumulation in estuaries can be decoupled from sediment MeHg concentration, and that drivers of MeHg production and fate may vary within a small region.
Project description:Mercury (Hg) is a global contaminant that poses a human health risk in its organic form, methylmercury (MeHg), through consumption of fish and fishery products. Bioaccumulation of Hg in the aquatic environment is controlled by a number of factors expected to be altered by climate change. We examined the individual and combined effects of temperature, sediment organic carbon, and salinity on the bioaccumulation of MeHg in an estuarine amphipod, Leptocheirus plumulosus, when exposed to sediment from two locations in the Gulf of Maine (Kittery and Bass Harbor) that contained different levels of MeHg and organic carbon. Higher temperatures and lower organic carbon levels individually increased uptake of MeHg by L. plumulosus as measured by the biota-sediment accumulation factor (BSAF), while the effect of salinity on BSAF differed by sediment source. Multi-factor statistical modeling using all data revealed a significant interaction between temperature and organic carbon for both sediments, in which increased temperature had a negative effect on BSAF at the lowest carbon levels and a positive effect at higher levels. Our results suggest that increased temperature and carbon loading, of a magnitude expected as a result from climate change, could be associated with a net decrease in amphipod BSAF of 50 to 71%, depending on sediment characteristics. While these are only first-order projections, our results indicate that the future fate of MeHg in marine food webs is likely to depend on a number of factors beyond Hg loading.
Project description:Evaluating the degree of metal exposure and bioaccumulation in estuarine organisms is important for understanding the fate of metals in estuarine food webs. We investigated the bioaccumulation of Hg, methylmercury (MeHg), Cd, Se, Pb, and As in common intertidal organisms across a watershed urbanization gradient of coastal marsh sites in New England to relate metal exposure and bioaccumulation in fauna to both chemical and ecological factors. In sediments, we measured metal and metalloid concentrations, total organic carbon (TOC) and SEM-AVS (Simultaneously extracted metal-acid volatile sulfides). In five different functional feeding groups of biota, we measured metal concentrations and delta 15N and delta 13C signatures. Concentrations of Hg and Se in biota for all sites were always greater than sediment concentrations whereas Pb in biota was always lower. There were positive relationships between biota Hg concentrations and sediment concentrations, and between biota MeHg concentrations and both pelagic feeding mode and trophic level. Bioavailability of all metals measured as SEM-AVS or Benthic-Sediment Accumulation Factor was lower in more contaminated sites, likely due to biogeochemical factors related to higher levels of sulfides and organic carbon in the sediments. Our study demonstrates that for most metals and metalloids, bioaccumulation is metal specific and not directly related to sediment concentrations or measures of bioavailability such as AVS-SEM.
Project description:Estuarine water column methylmercury (MeHg) is an important driver of mercury (Hg) bioaccumulation in pelagic organisms and thus it is necessary to understand the sources and processes affecting environmental levels of MeHg. Increases in water column MeHg concentrations can ultimately be transferred to fish consumed by humans, but despite this, the sources of MeHg to the estuarine water column are still poorly understood. Here we evaluate MeHg sources across 4 estuaries and 10 sampling sites and examine the distributions and partitioning of sediment and water column MeHg across a geographic range (Maine to New Jersey). Our study sites present a gradient in the concentrations of sediment, pore water and water column Hg species. Suspended particle MeHg ranged from below detection to 187 pmol g-1, dissolved MeHg from 0.01 to 0.68 pM, and sediment MeHg from 0.01 to 109 pmol g-1. Across multiple estuaries, dissolved MeHg correlated with Hg species in the water column, and sediment MeHg correlated with sediment total Hg (HgT). Water column MeHg did not correlate well with sediment Hg across estuaries, indicating that sediment concentrations were not a good predictor of water MeHg concentrations. This is an unexpected finding since it has been shown that MeHg production from inorganic Hg2+ within sediment is the primary source of MeHg to coastal waters. Additional sources of MeHg regulate water column MeHg levels in some of the shallow estuaries included in this study.