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Water-level fluctuations influence sediment porewater chemistry and methylmercury production in a flood-control reservoir.


ABSTRACT: 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.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6498431 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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